Although the budget was not on the agenda at the January 19 meeting of the Mamaroneck School Board, budget work is going on behind the scenes. The formal agenda did include recognizing the Mamaroneck High School Field Hockey team for finishing second in the state, and hearing from Safe Routes to School and the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Community Counseling Center.
In a Difficult Budget Year, What’s Up With the Teachers’ Contract?
Superintendent Paul Fried reported that he had been to faculty meetings at three district schools to discuss the budget situation, and that he had plans to hold similar discussions with the faculties at the other three schools and with the non-teaching staff in the district.
At various budget sessions in the fall, a number of community members suggested the district should seek to reopen the teachers’ contract in order to address contractual raises. In the Frequently Asked Questions posted on the its “Budget Communications” webpage, the district has indicated that it expects “to make a formal request to reopen all the contracts in the near future.”
Asked after the meeting for more details, Dr. Fried declined to be more specific about the status of his talks with teachers’ union representatives. He indicated that more information would be forthcoming shortly, along with further details about the “budget reduction initiative workshops” scheduled for February 2 and February 9.
Partnering with the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Community Counseling Center
Budget considerations may also have been behind the board’s request for a presentation from Dr. Mark Levy, the director of the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Community Counseling Center, which gets part of its funding from the schools.
Founded some 35 years ago as a partnership between the school district and the three municipalities to address the mental health needs faced by the community’s adolescents and their families, the Center has “quietly helped literally thousands of Mamaroneck students – maybe tens of thousands,” reported Dr. Levy.
Helping Kids Through School Programs and Clinic Work: The Center works through its separate clinic and also by running school programs, including the life skills curriculum for approximately 750 Hommocks sixth and seventh grade students, which is designed to prevent substance abuse and other high-risk behaviors.
In addition, the Center runs voluntary advocacy groups for 150 eighth grade students. These programs address everything from social skills to developing tolerance to dealing with depression and suicide. Small groups of students meet regularly with a social worker or psychologist from the Center to talk confidentially about what is going on in their lives with peers and a trusted adult.
The advocacy model is very successful, Dr. Levy explained, because good advice from peers in the group can be more powerful than the words of adults. One student telling another “don’t do that sex act with that boy” is more likely to deter risky behavior than hearing the same statement from an adult.
Each year, the Center picks up a “handful of difficult situations” in the advocacy groups, Dr. Levy said. In addition, students who have been in the eighth-grade groups bring in troubled high school friends years later. These students and others from the community make up the bulk of the approximately 130 cases and 1400 consultations seen yearly in the clinic. Consultations include telephone and face-to-face consults or crisis contacts.
The clinic turns no one away, although it has waiting lists for all its programs. Fees are set by a sliding scale, with the average fee being $18 to $20.
Working as partners with district social workers, psychologists and social workers, Center personnel can help when a student requires more counseling than the school can offer, or when family counseling is required. In addition, many students who would never open up to school personnel seek out the professionals at the clinic for help, explained Dr. Levy and Assistant Director Robbie Seidman, LCSW.
The Center also offers a variety of programs for parents in the schools and in the community.
Bang for the Buck? All this is accomplished on a shoestring. The Center’s annual budget is approximately $550,000, with about half coming from the state in the form of a yearly grant. In 2008-2009, the school district contributed $70,000, but that was cut to $63,000 for the current budget year. The remainder of the funding comes from the municipalities and private fund raising.
For its investment, Dr. Levy contended, the district gets great value, as the bulk of services provided by the Center’s ten professional staff members go to the school district. Serving as “a wonderful safety net,” the Center’s services allow help “to get to kids sooner rather than later,” Dr. Levy said.
There were approximately ten cases in the last year where the Center’s personnel saved lives. “The small amount of money that the school contributes is making a sincere difference in our community,” concluded Dr. Levy.
More information about the Larchmont-Mamaroneck Community Counseling Center can be found on its website at www.communitycounselingcenter.org.
Praise for Budget Communications and Mechanical Maintenance
The district’s work in preparing its budget webpage, including the FAQs, was recently cited as a touchstone by the Westchester-Putman School Boards Association, reported board member Nancy Pierson.
Other accolades came from engineers who visited district schools to help an energy service company prepare for an upcoming performance contract bid. Mark Bagdon at Novus Engineering, PC wrote: “ I believe that the level of mechanical maintenance at the Mamaroneck schools exceeds that of any public school district we have visited in 25 years of business, and is also better than some hospitals we have evaluated.”
Meryl Rubinstein, assistant superintendent for business operations, commended Director of Facilities George McNally and his staff for this unsolicited positive assessment.