School board looking at priorities – mental health vs college courses

A discussion providing mental health counseling or classes for college credit is on a future agenda for the Greene County board of education after a presentation by counselors Kyle Kinne and Teresa Skalla at the May 17 board meeting.

Their presentation was prompted in part by the departure of Intermediate School counselor Ann Stuekradt-Walsh. She will not be replaced as a cost-saving measure.

Kyle started with a litany of mental health positions that have been cut in the last 15 years or so. He mentioned  “school within a school” program at the high school, the I-JAG (Iowa Jobs After Graduation) program, and the juvenile court liaison position as cuts that have been made.

“I was hopeful at the beginning of the year when you came up with priorities and mental health was third. We thought the cuts were done. Now  Ann Stuekradt has put in her resignation and we’re looking at not filling the position. That’s our reason for coming here,” Kinne said.

Earlier in the meeting in his administrative report, high school principal Brian Phillips shared statistics of depression, suicidal thinking and suicide attempts by high school students.

Kinne reiterated some of those numbers, saying that according to the Iowa Youth Survey, 141 students are very anxious most of the time; 18 percent of students district-wide have been seriously thought suicide in the last 12 months; 13 percent have made a plan to commit suicide; and 5 percent, 37 students, have attempted suicide. Of those students, 15 students needed medical care afterward.

Kinne also said 16 students have dropped out this past year, and that the number has increased since mental health counseling has decreased at school.

School business manager Brenda Muir reminded the board that many of the positions Kinne referred to as being cut were grant funded. After the grants ran out, the positions were not continued.

“I hate to say it’s about priorities, but that’s what we need to have conversations about,” superintendent Tim Christensen said. He asked the board to consider if counseling and mental health is more or less important that college courses for high school students. “We’re spending $20,000 to $30,000 on college courses and a teacher to do part of that. Is that where we want to spend our money, or do we want to spend it on counseling. That’s a tough decision, but that’s reality.”

He suggested the board shift priorities to counseling.

Board president David Orht, who is a practicing mental health counselor, said he’d like to see a goal of 100 percent graduation, and that mental health directly effects learning.

The discussion followed the board’s approval of adding soccer. About reducing college courses, board member Mark Peters said that would be taking away something from “kids who want to succeed….We’ve just added a sports program we’ll have to eventually fund… I just don’t understand.”

“I share Mark’s point. I understand soccer won’t cost us anything next year, but the year after that, it’s going to cost us money,” said board member Sam Harding. “We’ll have to come up with that money by cutting something….  We’re already spending that money on something that’s good for kids…. There’s no perfect way to dole out money… Everything we’d cut is someone’s treasured program.”

Christensen was asked to provide comparative costs of college courses and mental health counseling. He reminded the board that cutting the Intermediate School position was part of the budget plan presented to the state School Budget Review Committee last fall. He said he had asked Paton-Churdan about the possibility of a shared mental health counselor. That is not a possibility. He said he has not asked other districts about it.



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