Friday, May 20th

School Administration Proposes Significant Increase in Mental Health Staffing

mental health 900x675At the same time that student enrollment in the Scarsdale Schools has declined by over 200 students staffing has gone in the other direction, increasing by 52 employees from 596 in 2014 to 648 full timers for the 2021-22 school year.

This trend is poised to continue if the Board of Education approves the administration’s proposal to add more staff for the 2022-23 school year.

At a budget study session on Monday January 10, the administration proposed to add staff to address growing mental health needs and to implement a new math program in the elementary schools as well as hiring additional cleaner and a a grounds person. Also in the proposal is the transition of 14 part time office clerks to seven full time positions. All in the requests would add more than $1 million to the budget for the next school year.

When asked why mental health and special education needs were growing at the schools, Assistant Superintendent Eric Rauschenbach provided a few contributing factors:

-First, the stigma about mental health is decreasing and more students are requesting help.

-The special needs student population has grown, and in the past five years the program has increased from 10 ICT (integrated co-teaching classes) to 19.

-The pressure to achieve is adding to student stress.

-The COVID crisis and remote learning has caused isolation, alienation and depression.

-In addition, the district is seeking to offer services in-district to students who were previously outplaced at the district’s expense.

Specifically, the administration proposed the following Tier 1 requests for staffing in the 2022-23 school budget.

One elementary school math teacher to help the district roll-out a new Next Gen standards aligned math program. This person would work with the current math coordinator. This program is estimated to last only two years. Cost $110,000

One Special Education teacher to work with students on life skills in the Bridge Program, during their transition from elementary to middle school. Cost: $110,000

One Psychologist, one Special Education teacher and an Aide to staff a new student support program at the Middle School, similar to a program at the High School. The program is designed to “help students manage anxiety and depression while providing coping skills and immediate feedback for certain behaviors. The focus is on maintaining a stable, positive environment while helping students to develop their self-advocacy skills.” Cost $235,000.

An Instructional Technology Specialist or computer teacher for the middle school to teach computer science and support technology needs. Cost: $110,000

A full-time Social Worker to be based at the middle schools to supplement the work of the three social workers from Scarsdale Family Counseling Services to provide preventative programming and avert crises. Cost: $110,000

A full-time Psychologist for the high school to meet increased demand for counseling, evaluations and address anxiety, eating disorders and more. Cost: $125,000

A full-time Secretary to support the high school psychologist. Cost: $65,000

A full-time Social Worker at the high school to support increased mental health needs and “school programming around topics regarding character development, wellness, and mental health.” Cost: $110,000

A half time district-wide CPSE Chairperson to correspond to the increase in the number of children in the district with special needs which has risen from 409 in 2016-17 to 562 in 2021-22. Cost $55,000

The administration is also asking for an additional cleaner at the high school at a cost of $50,000, an additional grounds person at a cost of $55,000 and to transition 14 part time clerical workers into 6 full time positions.

Board members asked probing questions after Andrew Patrick, Edgar McIntosh and Eric Rauschenbach explained the rationale behind the requests which would add more than $1,000,000 to the budget.

Amber Yusuf inquired about the staffing of the Student Support Program at the high school and whether the current staff was handling the demand. Rauschenbach said, “That program has been at capacity since we started it. We are perilously close to exceeding the capacity of the staff.” About the additional of a similar program at the middle school, Rauschenbach said, “Expanding this program down to the middle school will allow us to intervene earlier. And having a “Life Skills teacher at the Middle School will allow some of these kids to gain a regular High School diploma and get work experience prior to graduation.”

Asked how many students this new program would support, Raushenbach said it would serve “Five students who are moving up to the middle school.”

About the hiring of an elementary math teacher to support the new math program rollout, McIntosh said, “The assignment should be for the launch and rollout of a new math program and support that in the next two years.” This new position is in addition to another district wide Math Support Teacher – or “helping” teacher.”

Karen Ceske asked, “What is the long-term financial impact of increasing staffing. How many of these are permanent or tenure track positions? Drew Patrick answered, “If they are full time appointments they are tenure track.”

Carl Finger said, “We have had a reasonable increase in staffing with enrollment dropping over the last five years. Can you show us the different categories of staffing that has been added – in addition to breaking them down by school?”

He asked, “Is the math helping teacher permanent?” Mcintosh said, “It would be a current classroom teacher who would fill this role for two years.”

Finger also asked, “What will be the total net dollar difference for moving these 14 part time people to seven full time positions? Patrick responded, “The maximum will be $105,000.”

Rauschenbach said that he will outline more specifics about the number of students who have been transitioned into the district in a presentation about Special Education at the next Board of Education meeting. However, he said, “There is about a savings of $65,000” for each student who is served in the district, rather than outplaced.

Bob Klein said, “I understand there is a general trend toward moving services and students back to the district. Is there an analysis of the long-term costs of using outside vendors vs. providing services in district to see what’s most cost effective for functions such as food service and transportation?

Stuart Mattey said that “Yes the business office does do these analyses”

Rauschenback explained the growth in the need for special needs staffing, saying “Part of the attraction of moving here is our skill set for special needs education – so it continues to grow. We have moved from 10 sections of ICT (integrated co-teaching classes) to 19 sections in the past five years.”

Ron Schulhof asked, “Is this proposal to address the mental health needs during COVID – or ongoing? Will mental health needs normalize?”

Rauschenbach replied, “We have seen the trends moving in this direction pre-COVID, but COVID has increased that trend… if not we would not be asking for a psychologist and a social worker at the high school. We will continue to look at these positions. This is not a need specific to COVID.”

Schulfhof said, “What is going on with our kids in the schools? I would like a deeper dive into what is going on.”

About school enrollment projections, Patrick said, “Right now we’re at 4,612 students. Enrollment is based on the replacement of the outgoing senior class with the incoming kindergarten class. The trend has been smaller kindergarten classes relative to the graduating classes. For next year we are projecting the same number of sections as we have this year.”

On the question about the increase in the number of cleaners, Stuart Mattey said, “Our enhanced routine we used during COVID has become our regular routine. That’s why we are asking for additional cleaners.”

This presentation was an initial request, the first in a series of budget meetings in the months to come. Watch the presentation here.

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