The Aim: To improve Verona’s handling of student mental and behavioral health by adding three mental health clinicians to our child study team. Two clinicians will be added at Verona High School and one will be added at H.B. Whitehorne, although the positions could shift between schools as needed. But rather than hire these clinicians directly, Verona will partner with Effective School Solutions (ESS), a Scotch Plains-based company that provides clinical services for students with emotional and behavioral issues to more than 45 school districts in the tri-state area, including Glen Ridge, Livingston and Montclair.
The Cost: $550,000, or about $108 a year more for the average Verona household. That’s more money than full-day K, but this program has the potential to cover more students since the clinicians will work at both HBW and VHS. As with the full-day K spending, the money raised through this question may be spent only on this question.
The Pros and Cons: School districts across the country are looking for ways to develop students’ mental health, just as they develop their academic skills and physical fitness. Emotional and behavioral issues that are not addressed can cause students to do poorly in school and can result in extremely costly out-of-district placements. Verona now spends $595,000 a year for six such placements. While the district is not asserting that a favorable vote on the ballot question will bring those students back in district, it believes that working with ESS could lessen the need for out-of-district placements in the future.
ESS will provide both individual and group therapy to the students deemed to need it, and services will not be limited to those students who currently have special education classifications. Services would be delivered at the beginning and end of the school day, and also during an alternative lunch. ESS said at the September 25 BOE meeting (which you can watch here) that it strives to deliver its services in a low-key way so that the students in its programs do not feel stigmatized.
ESS employs licensed mental health professionals and Verona’s contract with it would also include mental health professional development for teachers that could help them to better work with all students. BOE President John Quattrocchi noted during the September 25 meeting that ESS can bring more experienced staff that Verona might otherwise be able to afford. It should also be noted that since the clinicians are hired by ESS, not Verona, the company bears the cost of their benefits.