Albany schools invest in mental health

An editorial from the Albany Democrat-Herald, April 24, 2014

Despite the obvious good news contained in the budget proposal for Albany schools, the news actually gets better when you peer into some of the details.

Linn County Court House Albany, OR

Linn County Court House Albany, OR

Administrators with the Greater Albany Public Schools district released the first draft of their budget proposal this week. The big news, of course, is that the budget could allow Albany schools to hire more than two dozen additional teachers along with more counselors, coaches and club advisers.

Any way you slice it, that’s good news.

The extra staff members are being made possible by a boost in state funding for the second half of the two-year budget cycle and a recalculation of how the state allocates funding for students deemed to be “in poverty.” That recalculation ended up benefiting Albany schools.

Look a little bit deeper into the details of the budget and you find more good news: The proposed budget demonstrates a renewed commitment to identify and possibly treat mental health issues before they have the chance to explode into tragedy.

The proposed budget calls for the equivalent of another full counseling position, split between South Albany and West Albany high schools, and combined with other resources to create two additional full-time counselors at each high school.

District officials said the counselors will be responsible for “improving our crisis prevention capacity” in terms of students who may have behavioral or emotional issues.

The proposed budget also contains $40,000 in funding to train classified staff in behavior intervention and to provide temporary support to develop behavior plans for students who might be at risk of an emotional crisis.

Those are smart moves.

We’ve spent a lot of time justifiably worried about the big gaps in our mental health system, especially when it comes to the services available to young people.

Now, Albany school officials have elected to spend some of their fiscal good fortune to help try to plug those gaps.

We won’t try to pretend that these additional resources will fix every problem or catch every student at risk of falling through the cracks.

But they should help to at least narrow some of the gaps. This is how we start to unwind the damage caused by decades of underfunding our mental health system – a few dollars at a time. And if even one student finds the help he needs thanks to these additional resources, this relatively small investment will pay off – handsomely – many times over.