Student discipline incidents referred to law enforcement this past school year nearly quadrupled from the year before, according to reports.

Rochester Public Schools administrators presented preliminary discipline data to school board members during the board’s meeting Tuesday night.

According to that report, 225 students were referred to law enforcement for 270 incidents in the 2017-2018 school year, the report showed. While the reported number of law enforcement referrals from the 2016-2017 school year were not included in Tuesday’s presentation, there were 70 such incidents, according to district data. Heather Nessler, district communications director, said the 2016 data wasn’t presented to the board because the district wasn’t uniformly tracking law enforcement referrals in the 2016-2017 school year and the comparison would not be fair.

The report also showed office referrals were down by about 65 percent from the 2016-2017 school year, with 4,336 this year compared to 12,361 office referrals last year.

Although overall office referrals were down, the data showed black students, special education students, and students with limited English language skills were disciplined at a rate disproportionate to their representation in student population.

The report showed:

  • black students made up 45 percent of referrals while representing about 16 percent of the total student body.
  • 74 percent of students receiving referrals also receive free or reduced lunches while they represent 37 percent of enrollment.
  • 65 percent of referrals were special education students while they make up less than 17 percent of the total student enrollment.
  • students with limited English language skills made up 19 percent of referrals while making up 10 percent of the total student body.

Some board members said changes to the student handbook and districtwide changes to definitions of infractions make the data incomparable to previous years.

“When we compare it to last year, it doesn’t mean much,” said Jean Marvin, board chairwoman.

Don Barlow, board vice chairman, called the comparisons “apples to oranges to pomegranates.”

“It’s great to have data as information,” he said. “But it doesn’t necessarily tell a story of what we can do.”

Superintendent Michael Muñoz acknowledged the data might not be directly comparable, but said that’s also a sign that the district is addressing discipline disparities not just among demographics but among schools.

“I think we’re going to see results because of the handbook,” Muñoz said, adding the changes help standardize discipline definitions across the district.

In the 2016-2017 school year, the second-most common offense was insubordination. That offense has since been removed.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Muñoz said.

Budget set at $224 million

In other business, the board unanimously approved a $224 million operating budget for the 2018-2019 school year.

The budget would cut about $1.5 million in spending. Some of the biggest changes include reducing the number of graduate induction teachers from 16 slots to 12. Added positions include a full-time para educator trainer and a fifth school liaison police officer. That officer would be assigned to a middle school.

The budget spending breaks down to:

  • $149.6 million to student instruction.
  • $35.7 million to instructional support services.
  • $20.4 million to facilities and buildings.
  • $6.8 million to district support services.
  • $8.5 million to administration.
  • $3.6 million for insurance and debt service.

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General Assignment Reporter

John joined the Post Bulletin in May 2018. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 2004 with a BA in Journalism and Japanese. Away from the office, John plays banjo, brews beer, bikes and is looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter “b.”