Archive for Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Schools’ mental health service a budget victim

The Lawrence School Board cut nearly $1 million from its budget, including a mental health support program for students.

April 15, 2009

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Lawrence school board members approved just under $1 million of cuts and cost-saving measures at their meeting Monday night.

One of those cuts was the WRAP program, a free mental health service provided by social workers in all Lawrence secondary schools. The contract with WRAP, which stands for Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities, made up $250,000 of the total budget cuts.

The district administration offered up the list of cuts and savings to prepare for a tighter budget during the 2009-2010 school year.

“We’ve tried everything we can to stay away from students and the classroom,” said Frank Harwood, the district’s technology director. He will become the chief operating officer effective July 1. “The one thing that’s out there now that does affect students is WRAP.”

While Harwood said the WRAP program is of value to the district, tough economic times mean tough decisions.

“As we have less money to work with, we’re trying everything we can to stay out of the classrooms as much as possible,” he said.

WRAP costs about $500,000 to run. The district funds about half of that, with other money coming from Douglas County, which provides about $225,000, and the Juvenile Justice Authority, which gives about $21,000.

School board Vice President Scott Morgan said the cuts Monday were just the first round and the district may have to dig deeper to offset financial cuts from the Kansas Legislature.

“The bad things were cut a long time ago,” Morgan said. “We’re left to cutting things that are important to people and WRAP’s one of them.”

Mental health advocates are worried about the lack of the program in Lawrence schools. “Evidence is mounting that kids and young adults have serious mental health problems that need to be addressed,” said David Johnson, the CEO of the Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. “The place where we should be is in the schools. Everybody believes that somebody else should pay for it.”

WRAP has two social workers in each high school and one in each junior high. The elementary level WRAP workers were taken out of the schools when the city of Lawrence pulled its funding a few years ago.

But Johnson isn’t giving up hope.

“We will meet and talk to the school district,” Johnson said. “We’re not just throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything for kids. We’ve got great kid programs. The problem is how do we get the kids to those programs.”

A number of other recommendations were made to the board, including leave positions vacant like the deputy superintendent spot. Bruce Passman is retiring at the end of this year.

On the plus side, Morgan noted the cost savings from switching the high school outdoor athletic facilities from natural grass to turf. “We freed up operational money, $152,000, in things like mowing and seeding and staffing that we don’t have to use on those fields anymore,” he said.

The board will have a study session April 27 to look over other potential budget cuts to prepare for having less money coming from the state.

Comments

grimpeur 6 years, 2 months ago

In the shadow of the new athletic facilities that have been rushed into existence, this news is deplorable.

Let's hope the school board members responsible for the events of the last five years at least get their names on a plaque on the new stadium.

Backstory:

September 28, 2004 The bond likely will include money to improve the junior high schools and the science labs at Lawrence High School, and likely will be about $40 million.

Several board members said athletic needs were important but didn't seem to be as big of a priority as educational needs at this time.

"It's not that athletic facilities are bad -- they're good," said board member Rich Minder. "I just don't see a football field making us more efficient."

October 10, 2004 While ideas and opinions have been tossed around for a new bond referendum, details of what will be included haven't been nailed down. But it has been said the bond issue could be from $40 million to $45 million.

October 18, 2004 Based on the current $53.6 million proposed bond plan, about $3.6 million would be spent at LHS to renovate science rooms, locker rooms and add a new entrance onto the gym. Of the $3.6 million, about $810,000 would go toward renovating science rooms.

February, 10, 2005 The group presented information prepared by the school district that estimates the $63 million in improvements would increase the district's property tax rate by 2.25 mills from 46.72 mills to 48.97 mills.

Not one of these stories, nor any others between Sept. 04 and March 05, states the need for athletic field improvements.

Not one.

In fact, indications are to the contrary, as Minder notes above.

So when there was $2.6M left in January of 2008, it should have gone to 1) retaining mental health workers (WRAP, etc.); 2) increasing teacher salaries

Wow, who could have predicted then that we'd rush ahead with expenditures on sports fields instead of funding our children's educational needs?

And please spare us the tired old "but we didn't have any choice" excuse. It's BS. School board didn't even try to get the money re-allocated. They could have, but they didn't, because fancy new playing fields were the most important thing.

They still are, apparently. How sad.

mom_of_three 6 years, 2 months ago

Although I am sad that WRAP is no longer funded, I feel the fields were sorely needed, and will be glad with LHS fields are done. We shouldn't have to sacrifice any student needs for another, be it athletics or mental health needs.

Leslie Swearingen 6 years, 2 months ago

Mental health is a necessity, not a luxury, any more than childhood vaccinations are. If we catch these problems early on and do something about it, we can keep them from spiraling out of control, until they do something really bad as adults.

Ralph Reed 6 years, 2 months ago

Yes! I'm glad WRAP is going away. The program helps too many kids succeed who would otherwise drop out and start working menial jobs that can't be filled because nobody wants to do them. What those kids really need is a program that will browbeat them and teach them to fail, rather than giving them a taste of what success feels like. You know, tough love -- shape up or ship out.

We really do need more athletic fields and facilities that will sit empty most of the year.

Well done School Board. You've really got your priorities right!

KSManimal 6 years, 2 months ago

grimpeur -

You give a good illusion of having done your homework, but you missed one important point:

Sports (and other) facilities are paid for out of capital outlay funds.

WRAP (and other salary/supply expenses) are paid for out of general funds.

Kansas law prohibits using capital outlay funds for general fund expenses, and vice versa.

Your point is moot.

Please direct any and all complaints about school budget cuts directly to Topeka where they belong.

mom_of_three 6 years, 2 months ago

Ralph Reed - Yes, we do need good athletic facilities so the kids won't be hurt, helps morale, general well being, physical education, etc. The football field/track will only be vacant November -February, as will the soccer fields. Baseball and Softball may be emptier longer, but considering LHS kids had to drive across town, it will be an improvement.
WRAP is a great program, and i am sorry it wasn't funded. It is greatly needed in the school system, and benefits a great many kids.

SFC_reader 6 years, 2 months ago

WRAP is not the sole mental health or counseling group in the Lawrence Schools. WRAP is a Bert Nash program and was to supplement the counselors, school psychs, and counselors that still remain in the schools.

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