A program that many say has kept tens of thousands of On opposite sides of the rope are the city of
With crime numbers and student suspensions down and graduation rates on the rise, the debate among local leaders isn't whether to keep the suspension program going, but who is going to pay for it in the long run.
Who wins that debate could affect the scope of one successful program and potentially affect the balance of funding of other community and school partnerships.
So far, polite discussion and negotiations between city and district leaders may result in the district sharing at least half the costs next year, but with both the city and the district facing tight budgets, neither is eager to pay the entire, nearly
Kids on suspension, he says, are the district's problem.
But advocates like
"The school district is within its right to kick these kids out of school, even though it's not always a good thing to do," Gentry said. "But to ask the school district to put millions into a program started by the city - and that directly benefits the city through crime prevention and intervention - is just not fair."AN ANSWER TO CRIME
The program in question is called the Alternative to Truancy and Out of School Suspension, or ATOSS.
It launched in spring 2009 as one of a host of city-sponsored anti-crime measures that included investments in police, youth, returning criminal offenders and youngsters living in low-income communities. The broad-ranging programs were all part of the Jacksonville Journey, a community-led response to
ATOSS, one of the Journey's highest-profile solutions, was a way to remove suspended kids from school without removing them from learning. It has handled nearly 32,000 suspension days for middle and high school students for a variety of infractions - from fighting, to repeated incidents of disrupting class or defying teachers. (Some students served multiple suspension days, so they're included in that number multiple times.)
Instead of putting kids out of school, potentially unsupervised and likely falling behind on classwork, ATOSS' five centers each employ a teacher, social worker and police officer or guard to supervise, tutor and coach suspended students. Students' regular teachers are supposed to send classwork and assignments, or students work online while suspended. Then they return to school caught up with their peers.
Another advantage: ATOSS students are not counted as suspended, bringing down suspension rates for the district. Before, some disruptive students were not suspended because suspensions counted against a school's performance.
But parents sometimes decline to send their suspended child to ATOSS. According to monthly oversight reports, about 82 percent of students referred to the program enrolled in it.
There were no reasons listed in the monthly oversight reports for some parents' decision to decline sending students to ATOSS. Several staff members in the program, however, said parents had transportation problems. The district provided busing in more recent years.
He told the
The program at first was projected to cost about
On average, the five ATOSS centers serve about 626 students a month.
For a program that has cost the city
"It probably has been the most effective program ... that directly correlated to crime and youth," Gentry said.
Before ATOSS, law enforcement leaders linked
For each year of ATOSS, authorities have reported falling crime. Overall crime is at a 41-year low, with property crimes expected to show another decline in 2013 data, said
Juvenile arrests have fallen 41 percent, from 3,919 in the 2006- 07 school year before ATOSS to 2,302 in the 2012-13 school year, she said.
ATOSS was one of many anti-crime programs here.
"We believe ATOSS is a part of that success, as a component of an overall strategy of addressing juvenile crime," Smith said.
Crime on the whole has been trending downward across the country for much of the past decade, but ticked up again in 2012. PROS AND CONS
ATOSS has had its stumbles. It started later than planned in the 2008-09 school year, handling its first students in May. The following fall, schools referred only a few students, prompting the city's oversight committee to tie funds to center use - withholding some money if the centers operate below 95 percent capacity.
Questions persist about whether it's needed, especially since
"I do like the idea that kids sent to them can see counselors and social workers, but that is a service schools should provide more of, because often why a kid acts up in school has nothing to do with school," he said.
Nevertheless, ATOSS has won over some of its students.
"At first I thought it was boring and that they weren't going to help me," she said. "But at ATOSS it's quiet and you can get your work done."
"It was punishment for me because you're in one room all day," she said, but the staff "helped me change my behavior ... so I avoided suspension my senior year."
She also pulled up her grades, graduated and is a sophomore at Florida State College at
A program that many say has kept tens of thousands of
On opposite sides of the rope are the city of