Governor visits SLO to meet with education, public safety officials

Gov. Jerry Brown holds low-key meetings to get feedback on education funding, criminal justice system

clambert@thetribunenews.comMay 1, 2014 

In two private meetings with San Luis Obispo County officials Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown heard feedback on sweeping changes to education funding and the state’s criminal justice system.

The governor has been quietly visiting counties throughout California to discuss his 3-year-old prison realignment program, which shifted the burden of housing and supervising lower-level offenders to counties, and a new funding formula for school districts statewide.

“We made a major shift to more local control in both the area of criminal justice and rehabilitation, and with schooling,” Brown said in a phone interview after the meetings.

“I’m going around to encourage the local superintendents and law enforcement leaders to persevere in their newly created authority.”

Local officials interviewed Thursday afternoon said the meetings were positive, open conversations where the governor simply asked for feedback on various issues.

Brown first met with local law enforcement officials overseeing realignment in the county, which includes county Sheriff Ian Parkinson, District Attorney Gerry Shea, Chief Probation Officer Jim Salio, Superior Court Judge Dodie Harman, public defender Jim Maguire, among others.

Their discussion included issues related to realignment as well as homelessness, drug and alcohol programs and rehabilitation efforts.

“On their end they have a desire to reduce the prison population,” Salio said, “and on our end we have a desire to ensure we can handle that population in the jail and have the resources to provide the treatment we need.”

Since realignment took effect in October 2011, the San Luis Obispo County Jail has had a 21 percent increase in the average number of inmates housed there, to 680 inmates from 560. Parkinson has said the jail is essentially full because of the increase.

But Salio said concerns about funding for realignment were not raised Thursday.

“Certainly we could use more (money) but if you talked to every probation officer in California they would say the same thing,” Salio said. “I think he (Brown) hears that enough.”

The group did tell Brown that the county is trying to receive certification from the state to become eligible for Medi-Cal reimbursements for drug and alcohol treatment provided to probationers. Doing so would reduce some of the realignment funds being used for that purpose.

“The money is coming,” Salio said. “As long as it keeps coming we’ll be fine.”

Brown said some of the conversation centered on split sentences, which allow a judge to divide a sentence of a person between a jail term and a period of mandatory supervision by a probation officer.

Since October 2011, 78 individuals in San Luis Obispo County have received split sentences.

The group also talked about treatment programs and the need to ensure those programs continue after someone is released from jail.

“For decades California has been just ‘lock them up’ and then they get out and haven’t really been prepared for a free society,” Brown said. “So now the pendulum is swinging back to rehabilitation, (and) greater local authority and reentry programs.”

He said local realignment plans have increased the level of collaboration between different agencies in counties.

“I think, in this county, I would say people have definitely stepped up to the plate,” Brown said.

On Education

Brown received applause from superintendents of the county’s 10 public school districts, who thanked him for restoring some funding to schools.

They discussed several significant changes facing public education, including a new state funding formula that’s intended to provide more local control over how to spend the money and steer extra dollars to districts with higher numbers of low-income students and English learners.

“We’ve had a very significant shift in state policy from what I would call excessive state control to a re-empowerment of local educators,” Brown said, “so the focus is on the superintendents and local schools to make more of the decisions.”

Along with the increased local control are new obligations for districts to show how their spending is improving student performance.

County schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said some of the discussion focused on how the districts would determine how to spend the money.

During the recession, school districts in San Luis Obispo County collectively cut about $50 million from their budgets. Local educators said the passage of Proposition 30 in November 2012 helped stop the bleeding but wouldn’t recoup the lost funds.

When asked about long-term funding for schools, Brown said the districts should receive more money under the new formula than they did prerecession.

“If you look at districts with the largest number of low-income (students), they should be getting more funding,” Brown said. “I think they’re going to come out better. If they don’t we’ll certainly respond.”

The superintendents also talked about new standardized tests and new learning goals that have been adopted by 44 states and the District of Columbia. For the first time, students are taking the tests on a computer, including a laptop, tablet, or desktop.

Local educators said they want all students to have access to technology, and ensure their schools have the infrastructure needed to support online testing.

“Someone said, ‘Can you get Apple to cut us a deal?’ and he just laughed,” said Jim Brescia, superintendent of the Cayucos Elementary School District.

The governor's press office posted two photos of the meetings to its Twitter account: one of Brown meeting with law enforcement, including Sheriff Ian Parkinson; and the other during a regularly scheduled meeting of the county's 10 public school superintendents.

 

Reach Cynthia Lambert at 781-7929. Stay updated by following @SouthCountyBeat on Twitter.

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