Carroll school board gets first look at budget, talks possible positions to help with mental health concerns

Emily Chappell
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times

The Carroll County Public Schools Board of Education — with three new members — got its first look at the fiscal year 2020 budget Wednesday, which included discussions around needed mental health-related positions.

While Wednesday was the first major discussion on next year’s budget with the school board, CCPS Superintendent Steve Lockard presented it with the caveat that the presentation was not the official budget request.

“Today’s work session is really meant as a starting point in the conversation,” Lockard said, later adding that this is a chance to be transparent and that a lot of Wednesday’s meeting is “just for conversation.”

As a part of this budget process, especially with a new superintendent, the fall was filled with meetings with Lockard and cabinet members about looking for efficiencies where they could be found, but also looking at system needs, Chris Hartlove, chief financial officer for CCPS, said.

Each of the areas of possible requests fell into areas of the strategic plan, which the school board has worked for months to create.

Items that CCPS hopes to add include: four special education resource teachers; 18 academic specialists positions that would focus on math — seven at the middle school level and 11 for elementary; three school psychologists; two intervention therapists; and two onsite information technology analysts.

These additions come with an estimated $2.8 million price tag.

Hartlove said in CCPS there are currently 225 positions to support eligible students with disabilities from birth through age 21, and four additional positions would “help decrease caseloads for current staff” and provide more opportunities at the elementary level.

CCPS has reading specialists in schools right now, but very few math specialists, Steven Johnson, CCPS assistant superintendent of instruction, said. Adding the 18 positions — a goal from pre-2008 recession times — would mean specialists at the elementary and middle level.

“We would be looking for people with math backgrounds that could provide extra support to teachers and students,” he said, adding that these folks could also help with testing in schools.

But a big part of Wednesday’s discussion focused on student mental health.

The three school psychologist positions stem from a much larger discussion in the school system about elementary school behavior issues. CCPS has a task force that has been working for months to study the root cause of these behavioral issues, and while last school year former Superintendent Stephen Guthrie had discussed adding behavioral specialists, Dana Falls, CCPS director of student services, said data looked at in the task force has been pointing toward the need for school psychologists.

“The data really points more to … behaviors that may be associated to some mental illnesses or some social emotional issues versus conduct disorders,” Falls said.

And while behavioral specialists have their role in schools — and in CCPS — they best handle conduct issues and not intervention services for students like a counselor could provide.

Falls cited evidence of two Title I schools that have full-time school based psychologists. CCPS is seeing a “dramatic difference” in “volatile behavior” in young students.

Tara Battaglia, a new BOE member who was sworn in Tuesday, asked about the other types of wraparound services that exist in Carroll and if these students are able to receive help from them as well.

“Are there multiple people working with these students?” Battaglia asked.

Johnson said they work to try to help these students get connected with county agencies, and CCPS’ new mental health coordinator will be apart of that. Falls added that while they do partner with a number of agencies, sometimes they’re limited with who those resources can go to.

“We’re still missing services,” he said, adding that across the state and nation, there’s a shortage of health care providers and often a waiting list.

Lockard stressed that Wednesday’s discussion, and the price tag that came with the possible requests, was just that — a discussion.

“We wanted to make sure everything was considered,” he said, adding, “we’re trying to get the whole picture here at the beginning.”

Even still, BOE Vice President Donna Sivigny said that looking at a possible plan that includes 29 additional positions made her gasp. The strategic plan was meant to be an accountability framework, she said.

“It certainly wasn’t a perspective of ‘we need to throw 29 bodies at things,’ ” Sivigny said.

Sivigny said she understood that this is a possible plan if there were no financial constraints.

Lockard reiterated that the staff wanted to consider all factors when discussing the overall budget process.

Marsha Herbert, a board member, echoed Sivigny, and called the possible plan “pie in the sky.” But, Herbert acknowledged, schools are struggling with these behaviors.

“I don’t know if I could be a teacher now in that situation. They do need help,” Herbert, a former CCPS teacher, said.

Johnson pushed back on Herbert’s comment.

“It’s truly not pie in the sky. Our special education teachers are drowning. They are drowning,” he said.

Herbert agreed, and admitted while it looked like a lot of money, any little bit they could do to help, they should.

Patricia Ann Dorsey, one of the new BOE members and a former CCPS teacher and administrator, said as someone who’s lived through being in charge of students, it is necessary to be supporting the schools.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s rather conservative,” she said of the possible plan.

She supported the idea of additional academic specialists and said even when she was still in the system, it was something CCPS was working toward.

“It’s been a request that I know that we’ve had over the years,” Dorsey added.

Kenny Kiler, the third new BOE member, asked if there was a way to discern which of these items was most important, say, if only a quarter of the possible plan was funded.

But, Johnson said, what was discussed Wednesday was already cut down. The original list had 20-some items, he said.

“These are our top,” he said, adding that if need be, CCPS can prioritize further.

Lockard said he recognized that CCPS will like have to go back through and reprioritize, but said he wanted to make sure the information was out and before the BOE and public as the budget process begins.

“It really is an all around, we think, targeted request to help meet our needs,” Johnson said.

emily.chappell@carrollcountytimes.com

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