Compared to some past budget deliberations, the city school district's budget for 2013 to 2014 passed without much fuss. But to close a $50.2 million budget gap, Superintendent Bolgen Vargas made a cut that has some students, teachers, and parents worried. Even some board members are apprehensive about the cuts they approved.
The new budget cuts about 10 jobs in the Student and Family Support Centers to save slightly more than $1 million. The cuts are extremely sensitive, since the centers provide what is widely recognized as much-needed mental health counseling and guidance for city students.
According to a year-end report from the department, the center's counselors and social workers saw more than 5,000 students in the 2011 to 2012 school year. In some schools like East High, more than 40 percent of the students received support. Large numbers of Charlotte, Douglass, and Franklin students were seen, too.
The issues of greatest concern to students, the report says, were academic problems, relationships, and family matters. But the counselors worked with students on everything from anger management to teen pregnancy and parenting.
There's also a strong correlation between mental health support and improved academic achievement. The report shows that 78 percent of low-performing students who received help improved enough to be promoted to the next grade or graduate.
There are 16 centers located in school health clinics throughout the district, and most of the services are provided by professionals associated with community agencies. District officials say the cuts are not to the programs or the professional staff who treat students. It's the coordinators' positions, the professionals who link and refer students to the specific agencies that were cut.
"The change is in how the students are connected to the agencies that help them," said district spokesperson Chip Partner in a written statement. "They will be referred by school social workers and counselors or [students will] approach the providers directly."
Partner says there has never been a question about the need for the services or the work the staff does. It comes down to money, he says.
The new budget cuts about 10 jobs in the Student and Family Support Centers. The cuts are extremely sensitive, since the centers provide what is widely recognized as much-needed mental health counseling and guidance for city students.