Ordinarily, Paula Kissinger isn't one to call attention to herself or to her 13-year-old son, who's mentally ill.
"My son is autistic, severely autistic," she said.
He's already picked on enough, she said.
But when Kissinger read in Monday's Journal-World that the funding for Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center's WRAP program was in jeopardy, silence was not an option.
"I spent three hours writing out what I wanted to say," Kissinger said Monday, minutes after sharing her concerns with the Lawrence school board.
"I wanted them to know these are real people we're talking about here - my son is real person," she said.
Kissinger credited Carice Riemann, the WRAP worker at Central Junior High, with saving her son's life.
"If it weren't for her, my son would not be alive today, literally," Kissinger said, noting that last year her son contemplated murder and suicide in response to the bullying he suffers at school. Subsequently, she said, he was hospitalized for six days.
"The lessons my son learned from (Riemann) kept him from carrying out his urges, which would have been fatal," she said.
Kissinger's comments followed a presentation by Bert Nash CEO Dave Johnson, who explained that the federal grants that have funded WRAP since 2001 expire at the end of 2005-06 school year.
WRAP, an acronym for Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities, gives each school in the Lawrence school district access to a full- or part-time mental health counselor.
In Kansas, no other school district offers as much access to as many counselors.
Johnson asked board members to set aside $350,000 for WRAP.
Board members praised WRAP's performance but deferred setting aside $350,000 until after the Legislature decides whether - or how - to adjust the formula for calculating state aid.
"We are at the very beginning of the budget process," said board member John Mitchell.
Board members warned Johnson to expect intense competition for whatever funds - if any - become available.
Board member Rich Minder confided that he has a brother who is schizophrenic.
"I can testify on the impact" that having a mentally ill family member "had on my ability to learn," he said.
Minder applauded WRAP for educating the community at-large that mental illness is a "public health issue, not just a school issue." To ignore this lesson, he said, would be a "tragic waste of learning."
Because WRAP workers' approach to services is different at each school, board member Craig Grant said he wanted to hear from the principals on whether some WRAP workers' duties could be combined with those of guidance counselors and nurses.
Deputy superintendent Bruce Passman said plans call for board members having principals' recommendations by March 1.
"We had a meeting on this today," Passman said.
Johnson welcomed the board members' comments. "I heard some strong statements of support," he said. "This is a critical first step for us."
He was caught off-guard by Kissinger's testimony.
"I never met the man," Kissinger said, referring to Johnson. "I did this on my own. Nobody put me up to it - I wasn't going to let anybody stop me either."
Also on Monday, the board voted to extend for five years its authority to raise the district's capital outlay levy to 8 mills. Currently, the district's capital outlay levy is six mills.
A mill is a tax of $1 per $1,000 assessed valuation in property a person owns.
The vote does not mean the district will automatically seek an additional two mills. Instead, it gives the board the option.
"Those decisions won't be made until July or August," said finance director Kathy Johnson.
The capital outlay fund underwrites building repairs, remodeling, additions and equipment -including technology upgrades - and land purchases.