Town Meeting Day has come and gone but a clear message was sent to the towns this year. Manage your school budgets or they may not pass. Thirty-five school budgets were voted down this year and for many of these budgets it was because of the increase in the unfunded federal mandate for special education services. Some towns saw school budgets increase by 21 percent with most of these increases directly attributed to special education costs.
There are many reasons for the growth in special education across the state but one clear and undeniable trend is the increasing number of students who come to the classroom with serious social, emotional, behavioral and developmental needs. As every classroom teacher knows, a child or youth will have a difficult time learning in school if they are depressed, hyperactive, hypersensitive, socially isolated and/or under extreme stress due to family divorce, drug use, family job loss, multiple relocations, or chronic family poverty. And all of these conditions are on the increase in rural Vermont.
The good news is that every school in Vermont has a partner in their community who is committed to working with the school to help their students with special needs. The 12 community mental health centers in Vermont, working with the Agency of Human Services and the Department of Education, established the Success Beyond Six program in 1992 to expand community mental health and behavioral support services into public schools in Vermont.
Health Care and Rehabilitation Services is the community mental health center which serves school districts in Windham and Windsor County. This year we have 43 staff working in schools across the two counties, serving 515 children and youth in their school.
The Success Beyond Six collaboration between schools and community mental health has been shown to control the cost of special education by ensuring kids get the positive emotional and behavioral support they need to succeed in their local school by having a professional mental health worker available in their school for when they need help. Our staff can help reduce the number of students placed in alternative schools settings due to behavior issues. They reduce the number of kids placed in residential or out-of-state programs and they help bring kids back from residential placements earlier. They provide early and easy access to essential and comprehensive wrap-around mental health services that a child may not get if the service was not offered in the school. We provide preventative and early intervention services within the schools and we work with school administrators and teacher to develop "Positive Behavioral Supports" programs across the school environment. In short, we partner with the schools to help the students succeed in the classroom.
If you are a school board member, a selectboard member, a parent, or a school administrator and are concerned about the increase in the cost of special education due to increasing emotional and behavioral issues in the classroom, call us or email us. We will be glad to come and talk with you about how we can help the children and youth in your community receive essential mental health and behavioral services. Our goal is to ensure that every child in Windham and Windsor County has the emotional and behavioral supports they need in their community to grow up successfully in their home town.
Will Shakespeare is the Director of Children, Youth and Family Services at HCRS.