Frederick County Public Schools is asking for about $790,000 to fund 10 new positions related to mental health.
It is one of the larger requests in the superintendent’s proposed $683 million fiscal 2021 budget, which the Board of Education and FCPS staff discussed in detail at a work session this week.
The Department of Student Services, which recently began to oversee mental health and psychological services, presented its proposed budget, which includes the request for more mental health positions.
“Our vision is simple,” Dana Falls, director of student services, told the school board. “Our role is to remove the obstacles that prevent students from being the best learner.”
Specifically, they are asking for three school psychologists, two pupil personal workers, four behavioral support assistants and one more behavior support teacher specialist.
There is also a request for a full-time homeless student coordinator.
In total, these added positions would cost about $5 million.
Falls called moving mental health under the umbrella of student services a “brilliant move.”
Board President Brad Young said he was glad to see mental health as a priority in the budget, but wished they could do more.
“Mental health is extremely important to me, and I would like to see more psychologists,” Young said. “We’re chipping away at it, but I wish we could do it a little bit faster.”
The school psychologists, Falls said, would be implemented at the elementary level because according to him, “it’s the best bang for your buck.”
Psychologists are not only able to serve in a counseling role but also with children who have individualized educational plans, or 504 plans, which are formal plans schools develop to provide needed support to children with disabilities.
The department is asking for four behavioral support assistants, which would be new positions in the school system. They would help carry out and continue plans in the classroom that teacher specialists may have implemented, Falls said.
They would see the project through until it is completed and then move on to another assignment.
Falls told the board that there is a greater need than what the department is asking for but the attempt is to take a measured approach for now.
Young said he isn’t sure if he agrees but understands.
“I’m not sure I like taking a measured approach that can directly affect student success, but I understand the budget challenges,” said Young, who later told The News-Post that a similar measured approach has been happening for some time.
“I think some people have been under the illusion that we’ve been getting fully funded because we’ve been getting most of what we asked for, but we’ve been realistic in past years where we’ve been kind of told what was available and we’ve asked for that,” Young said.
One option that is available for this year’s budget is a reduction in class size. FCPS staff have been speaking with the board about the possibility since October.
Jamie Aliveto, executive director of system accountability and school administration, presented the numbers associated with such a reduction to the board at the work session.
If class size were reduced by one student from kindergarten through eighth grade, about 34 additional positions would be needed.
The department is already requesting approximately 50 new positions to deal with enrollment growth across the county.
Young said he feels this, as Superintendent Terry Alban stated when releasing her plan earlier this month, is a top priority for this year’s budget.
“I think the classroom reduction is important. We’re putting so much stress on teachers by having additional students in the classroom,” Young said.
He added that overall, this year’s budget is a big request and that he knows some tough decisions will need to be made, especially since there is currently a $29.8 million gap between projected revenue and expenditures.
“I’m under no false illusion that [the county] will be able to fund the entire amount, but we feel it’s important that we ask for what’s necessary for our school system,” Young said. “There are a number of things that we also would have liked that we didn’t include in there.”
Now that school board members have had the opportunity to go through the budget in detail and ask questions, they will be able to discuss it further and make any changes at their next meeting on Jan. 22. The budget will then be presented to the public at a hearing in February.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that FCPS was requesting $5 million for the 10 new mental health positions. The article has been corrected to reflect the accurate figure.