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Mattawa Council, Wahluke School District officials discuss grant

by RACHAL PINKERTON
Staff Writer | January 13, 2021 1:00 AM

MATTAWA — The Wahluke School District met with the Mattawa City Council during a special virtual council meeting on Monday, and the school district shared the importance of the COPS grant the city of Mattawa received from the Department of Justice and how it will benefit Mattawa’s schools.

The grant apparently was applied for without some of the council members aware of it, even though the city is required to pitch in money.

The $372,750 grant, with an additional $124,250 matching from the city, was applied for and received by the Mattawa Police Department. The money will provide the school district with electronic keyfob entry points and upgraded security cameras at all schools in the district. It will also provide the district with a school safety specialist and pay for training and a laptop computer. Mattawa Police Department, which supplies the school district’s SROs (school resource officers), will receive two additional radios and training.

Tiffany Coulson, one of the writers and manager of the grant, said in previous years, the Wahluke School District had one of the highest discipline rates in the state. The school district has been working to turn that around by making positive school climates and using evidence-based practices. She said in surveys of high school students in the district, 23% said they stayed home from school because they didn’t feel safe.

“It spills out into the community,” Coulson said.

She also cited statistics that say students of color tend to get disproportionately higher numbers of disciplinary actions than their non-colored counterparts. Wahluke is working on changing this in the district by implementing PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) and through culturally responsive training.

When writing the COPS grant, Coulson said several days were spent analyzing the school district’s needs, including bringing in law enforcement.

“It took a couple of days to go through the campus,” Coulson said. “We need better communication and quicker communication between the school and police department. We had two officers on sight, looking at hardware, how well the cameras were working and where the cameras were located. If it were not for the Mattawa Police Department, we wouldn’t have been able to do it ourselves.”

One of the concerns the Mattawa City Council had with the grant was the amount of money it would have to spend during the three-year agreement. While council was informed of the grant in fall city council meetings, it felt as if it was left out of the loop.

Tracy Plouse, director of Finance and Operations for Wahluke School District, said the school district should make up the matching funds portion of the grant with the work to install the new security measures and supervise the SROs. The total matching fund for the grant is 25% of the total grant. Plouse said while the grant was awarded to the City of Mattawa, the city is subawarding the grant to the school district. With the subaward, the city can pass the matching funds portion of the grant to the school district.

“With my years of managing grants, I don’t see any problem with the district coming up with the matching grant,” Plouse said.

Council member Tony Acosta asked how much it would cost the city for staff to manage the grant. Coulson said the city would be responsible for the fiscal reporting of the grant and Plouse offered to provide her assistance and expertise to the city for that process.

In addressing the council’s concern of being left out of the loop, Wahluke School District Interim Superintendent Andy Harlow said he was not sure where the communication failed. Harlow said the grant process started during the leadership of former Mattawa Mayor Scott Hyndman.

“I wish I could go back and have you more informed,” Harlow said. “All I can do is clean up and not cost the city a dime.”

The council asked that a subaward agreement be written up and approved by the school board before being returned to council for approval.

Later in the meeting, the council passed a resolution requiring staff to present grants to the council for approval before applying for them. The resolution will allow the council to ensure that matching funds are available prior to the grant being awarded.