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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 27th, 2010, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 11, Issue 20 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 11, Issue 20

D.A.R.E. to be Lazarus?

Despite bad economic weather, the anti-drug program can be resurrected

By HENRY HOUSTON

In Santa Maria, sixth graders usually don’t get much of a graduation ceremony to celebrate their move into the world of junior high school—a crueler place where there isn’t a playground. There’s long been one event, however, that many children looked forward to: their D.A.R.E. graduation at the Elk’s Lodge.

The anti-drug program D.A.R.E., which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education, sets kids on a path leading away from drugs, gangs, and violence. It began in Santa Maria in 1993, and since its inception has had 20,000 students pass through.

But even though a multitude of local bumper stickers boast children who are graduates of the program, it’s been on the chopping block of late. It was even almost entirely out of the picture due to stringent budget restrictions.

At a recent meeting, however, the Santa Maria City Council breathed new life into D.A.R.E.. Children can once again learn about the perils of drug abuse and how to resist peer pressure that will surely heat up in their adolescent years.

Its comeback, however, represents a limited return, and the budget allocated for D.A.R.E. only ensures a run of one year. The tentative resurrection comes partly thanks to donations from Wells Fargo Bank, which signed over a check for $10,000, and a donation of $25,000 from the Santa Maria Bonita School District.

Times are tight for the local police department. In this still-shaky financial climate, Santa Maria Police Chief Danny Macagni suspended a few positions: one beat coordinator, one dispatcher, one crime analyst, and one school resource officer.

But, as Macagni reiterated at the July 20 City Council meeting, “these positions are suspended, not eliminated, and they will be replaced when the economy
is better.”

The cuts in the police department amount to a three percent reduction, a total of $600,000 in operations for the 2010 and 2011 budget, Macagni explained.

“I’d say our No. 1 priority is fiscal responsibility, but high up there on our priority list is the safety of our children,” Santa Maria Bonita School District Board member Jody Oliver said at the meeting. “We don’t know how they will respond to what they learned about peer pressure. For many of our sixth grade children, this is one of the few positive experiences they have had with a police officer; they are proud of their experience.”

The cost of a full-time D.A.R.E. officer would be about $118,000, and supplies are roughly priced at $31,880.

At the June 15 City Council meeting, members instructed Macagni to make cuts in his department as part of a citywide move toward austerity. He initially considered axing the D.A.R.E. program and one student resource officer to handle the intensive budget cuts; he was looking to instead focus on existing nonprofit alternatives to teach drug resistance in the classroom. For example, the Santa Maria-Bonita School District already participates in the drug-free Red Ribbon Week, and other anti-drug programs have been used to act as a complement to D.A.R.E.’s curriculum, including Too Good For Drugs and Violence; Project Alert; and a new program proposed by Santa Barbara County Drug Court, Brain Power!, which is already used in Orcutt and some Santa Maria schools.

Ultimately, however, Macagni didn’t think the alternatives would be enough.

“The nonprofit organizations cannot create a bond between police officers and children,” he said at the July 20 meeting. Councilmembers Hilda Zacarias and Mike Cordero repeated that sentiment.

Cmdr. Craig Ritz said in the Council Agenda Report that the scaled-down D.A.R.E. program will cost $55,480: That’s $31,100 in salary and benefits for a part-time provisional officer, a retired officer hired to reduce overtime expenses and relieve full-time officers so they can work on their patrol duties; and $24,380 in expenses for workbooks, transportation, the D.A.R.E. dance, essay winner medals, and the coveted D.A.R.E. T-shirts.

Al Torres, who had been involved with the D.A.R.E. program for seven years before his December 2009 retirement, will be the provisional officer.

Resolution No. 2010-09, accepting $35,000 in donations to fund D.A.R.E., was passed unanimously by the City Council, with Councilmember Bob Orach reminding everyone that it’s short-term, and funded for one more year with a combination of $20,480 from reallocating Police Department funds.

As of press time, the Santa Maria Police Department couldn’t comment on the state of D.A.R.E..

Contact Intern Henry Houston at intern@santamariasun.com.




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