Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler and Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel today said that establishing a Joint Public Agency (JPA) is the most effective way to ensure that school safety and student enrichment programs continue to be funded long-term. Beutler and Joel joined members of the new Safe and Successful Kids Community Coalition to outline a comprehensive plan that includes the addition of School Resource Officers and a threat assessment officer. The JPA would also provide more funding for student mental health services and for programming at the Community Learning Centers (CLCs).
The JPA would consist of three School Board members, the Mayor and two City Council members. It would be able to levy up to one cent of property tax. Beutler and Joel said the City and LPS would both work through their respective budget processes with the intent of lowering their tax rates. The goal is to ensure residents do not see an increase in their property tax levy to fund the safety and student achievement improvements. A one-cent levy would bring in about $2 million dollars the first year.
Beutler said an issue as complicated as student safety and achievement must be addressed with a comprehensive community approach that can be sustained long-term. "The JPA's mission will be the safety and success of our kids, and we believe these issues are important enough to have this singular focus," Beutler said. "A JPA allows us to have a more coordinated and focused approach. It decreases the potential for service gaps and redundancies. And it increases transparency, as the JPA's decisions will receive a much higher level of attention and scrutiny."
"This is a culmination of years of work to find a solution that will sustain and strengthen CLCs and address the recently elevated safety and security concerns," said Joel "The JPA can hold as its sole mission the unique effort of student safety and success in a comprehensive system of protective, preventive, and proactive programming in a way that the subdivisions cannot accomplish individually."
Community Learning Centers were established in LPS in 1999. CLCs provide a strategy to engage public and private partners working collectively to build smart kids, thriving families and strong neighborhoods. LPS currently has CLCs at 19 elementary schools, six middle schools and one high school.
The creation of a JPA would require majority approval by both the City Council and the School Board. The legal documents will be submitted to both bodies toward the end of the month.
Quotes from members of the Safe and Successful Kids Community Coalition:
Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister:
"Increasing the number of School Resource Officers and adding an investigator dedicated to threat management is one component to improving the safety of our kids. Enhancing public safety requires partnerships. The combined actions proposed in the JPA will not only improve police staffing in schools, it will use a multi-disciplinary approach to make an impact."
Community Learning Centers Director Nola Derby-Bennett:
"Community Learning Centers utilize the neighborhood school as the hub of support, and as a result, the conditions for learning and development are enhanced, leading to positive outcomes for children, youth and families. CLCs have a long history of working collaboratively with community partners to provide high quality education and enrichment opportunities for students."
LPS School Board member Connie Duncan:
"We cannot do this alone. We need our City and our schools to wrap their arms around those that need us the most, our most valuable asset, our children."
City Council member Leirion Gaylor Baird:
"Our children and families don't want community leaders working in silos. They want us working together in lockstep so that they don't have to be on lockdown. A closer partnership between the schools, the City and our community's dedicated social services providers is the kind of approach to promoting safety and protecting our children that I want to see, not only as an elected official, but also as a parent."
Retired LPS Associate Superintendent Marilyn Moore:
"Students learn better when they feel safe, when they have access to health services, including mental health, when needed, and when their lives are stable. The plan proposed by the school district and the City of Lincoln addresses real needs in children's lives, and it will contribute to stronger, safer schools and neighborhoods. The collaboration is a message of a joint commitment to this community's children."