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Oxnard Police Plan Charter School for Troubled Youths

October 19, 2003|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

Using a visit by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer to promote local community policing efforts, Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez on Saturday announced an ambitious plan by his department to create a new charter school for the city's most troubled youths.

If successful, the school -- which would recruit high-risk students in the third through eighth grades and mandate parental involvement -- would be the only educational institution of its kind in the country, Lopez said.

"We would teach them values and discipline," Lopez told several dozen residents at a small outdoor festival at Brekke Elementary School. "It's still very much in its infancy, but I envision a holistic approach in which the parents are involved."

The concept would be ground-breaking because the Police Department would essentially run the facility, said Lopez, who presented a preliminary proposal to the City Council earlier this month.

But many details, including teacher staffing and curriculum, still need to be worked out, he said.Lopez said he had informally discussed his idea with a handful of local school district leaders, including Oxnard Elementary School District Supt. Richard Duarte.

Those officials could not be reached for comment.

Oxnard Councilman John Zaragoza, who attended Saturday's event and introduced Boxer, said such a charter school would be welcomed in Oxnard, the county's largest city, with a population of 180,000. The city is home to hundreds of gang members.

"I think it's an excellent idea if we can get young, impressionable children and stop them from joining gangs and from going in the wrong direction," Zaragoza said.

Serious questions also remain over funding, which Lopez said he would seek from state and federal sources.

The first step would be to obtain charter status from the state before requesting funds, he said. The chief said he hoped to open the school by September 2004 -- a lofty goal that Zaragoza described as a challenge.

Lopez, Zaragoza and other officials discussed the charter school plan with Boxer during the California Democrat's visit, and Zaragoza said she expressed support for the concept.

As for the location, Lopez said the ideal site would be at the old Oxnard High School at 5th and H streets. The 33-acre site, sold to the city last year for $2.1 million, houses several nonprofit groups, including a Police Activities League chapter that hosts youth dances and other after-school events.

Boxer did not comment directly on Lopez's remarks Saturday but made it clear that increased police involvement in the city was critical to stemming youth violence.

The senator spoke of the importance of Community Oriented Police Services, a federal program that gives cities money to increase local police departments and forge partnerships with school officials to combat school violence.

A longtime supporter of the program, Boxer co-sponsored a measure to extend the federal program through 2009 and to authorize funding for an additional 50,000 law enforcement officers nationwide.

"We've got our officers out there in the community and the kids begin to trust them and the problems don't fester," the senator said in brief remarks to the crowd.

Boxer announced earlier this month that the Oxnard Police Department had received a $250,000 grant from the program, as well as a $150,0000 grant from the federal Secure Our Schools program, which provides money for locks, lighting and metal detectors at schools.

Over the years the Police Department has received more than $6 million in federal funding for such programs, Lopez said. The most recent grants will be used to hire more officers, he said, adding that the federal money had helped reduce crime in the city by 60% over the last decade.

Boxer said the Community Oriented Police Services program was in jeopardy because the Bush administration had failed to fund it and was instead poring billions of dollars into war operations.

"COPS [the program] in the schools is critical," Boxer said. Although she supported funding for the troops, Boxer opposed a measure to approve nearly $87 billion for U.S. military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Boxer also announced Saturday her plan to introduce a bill this week that would reimburse states and cities for the cost of paying medical benefits for municipal employees who are military reservists called up for active duty.

"We need to do the right thing by our own people," she said.

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