“Our agenda is pretty much set. Our budget is pretty much set for this year,” said W.C. Gentry at the front of the Jax Journey oversight committee meeting Thursday.
However, there were still some issues to discuss, including the future of Alternatives to Out of School Suspension (ATOSS) and neighborhood accountability funding next year, the budget in general, and half a million dollars of repurposed funding.
Those first two areas are especially salient, given that just four months ago, Mayor Lenny Curry, during what was billed as a Day of Journey, was with media at an ATOSS center, and given that the committee had lauded both initiatives previously.
The issues were taken up separately, with the neighborhood accountability board first.
“We funded an accountability board,” Gentry said, “but until recently no one was referring anybody to it.”
“We’re only funding $55,000, but until recently we only had a dozen referrals on an RFP that counted 150,” he said.
“There’s been significant change since we discussed this a month ago,” Gentry added.
Through April, there had been 46 cases reviewed. As of Thursday, 20 referrals from law enforcement and the school district came through in the last month.
The program is now on track for funding at $55,000, but if they don’t hit 150 referrals, there may be performance disincentives, said Debbie Verges, project manager for the Jax Journey anti-crime initiative.
The boards involve tough love, quizzing and grilling of at-risk kids, in the hope of getting them on the right path, said committee member James Campbell.
These boards are predicated, said Gentry, on a “restorative justice model.”
“That’s part of the system we need more communication about, and we’re getting there,” said Gentry, noting that the sheriff’s office is fulfilling its commitment to start feeding the program by May 1.
Rev. Tan Moss of ICARE spoke to the program’s effectiveness, saying it was “underused because administrative issues in the sheriff’s office” required officers to go to substations to fill out a civil citation.
This was changed in March by Sheriff Mike Williams, Moss said.
ATOSS was another issue with an interesting history.
“The program had been funded at some $800,000 with the city paying for four sites,” Gentry said of the program that was begun a decade ago.
“At the time, the school district was suspending tens of thousands of kids a year out of school.”
One year, the number was 67,000.
This led to more juvenile crime, such as breaking and entering during school hours.
“It was a city problem, and it was clearly a crime problem,” Gentry continued.
At one point, “around a million dollars” was devoted to ATOSS, and there were plaudits from parents who appreciated the structure.
“The school district has basically put ATOSS out of business. The number of criminal citations is lower. The number of suspensions has changed. There’s a whole new approach to criminal conduct,” Gentry said, and it is positive.
Only 3,419 student days were spent in ATOSS this year, of just over 1,800 students.
“It’s only dealing with a small number of kids these days,” Gentry said, adding that “there may be other areas where the city can partner with the district and make a bigger difference.”
The proposal is to fund one site, the St. Paul location near Ribault, at just over $244,000, and share in transportation costs, down from four sites this year.
Notable: St. Paul is the church of Pastor John Guns, an ally of the Curry administration.
Further adjustments could be made depending on student usage.
The proposal passed.
Discussion then moved to “repurposed funding” from the de-funding of ATOSS, money to be shifted to other priorities.
Those priorities included $45,024 for juvenile intervention to bring its funding up to $321,600; $59,379 to job coaches for 300 summer jobs programs; the remaining $494,416 will be left for the juvenile justice subcommittee to review, with a “deeper dive” in August during municipal budget hearings.
The juvenile intervention money involves case management work in school intervention situations.
Meanwhile, ex-offender employment programs, said Gentry, face “major issues” with funding, with some funded parties offering “very little activity.”
Over 700 offenders need the service; some providers have only served one.
These are pay-for-performance contracts, which means that there may be a surplus allocation from this year’s budget, which can be used for a new RFP.
With 2,200 convicts released every year, there is room to move; key given the correlation between ex-offender employment and avoiding re-offending.