In a rare split vote, the Santa Barbara school board approved the renewal of a contract with Interquest Detection Canines to provide drug-sniffing dogs for one more year. For the price of $13,500, a handler and a dog will pay 60 half-day visits to the district’s high schools to sniff around classrooms and parked cars.
Trustee Pedro Paz and Board President Monique Limón both dissented. Limón — along with Annette Cordero, who is no longer on the board — also voted against the dogs when they were first brought on. “It’s just not an investment I feel confident about,” Limón said, noting that she had just heard a story about a student whose backpack was identified for marijuana even though there were no drugs in it. Drug use has been trending down for three years, she pointed out, while the dogs have only been here for one.
Ed Heron said that the dogs are there to keep drugs off campus, not for intervention. He pointed out that the district invests way more in intervention than prevention: for instance, $195,000 on counselors from the Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. He and Kate Parker said they felt the dogs played a role in the decreased number of drug-related suspensions.
“It’s correlational data at best,” said Pedro Paz, who analyzes data for his day job as a program evaluator with First Five Santa Barbara County. Although Superintendent David Cash noted that all of the high school principals requested one additional year of the dogs in order to collect more data, Paz said that wouldn’t make a difference if the district did not devise a scientific study. He said that he couldn’t vote for an investment of taxpayer dollars based on “faith.”
He and Limón also mentioned that the kids are “savvy” about avoiding detection. For instance, they warn each other about the dogs via text. And due to legal precedent, they are allowed to take their bags with them when the dogs inspect their classrooms. Trustee Gayle Eidelson, who voted with the majority, said, “As a parent, school boardmember, member of this community, it’s important … to say this is something that’s not allowed on campus. I feel the drug dogs are a tool enforcing that message.”