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Schuh to add staff to schools in budget; County executive wants to increase number of mental health, counselor positions

Capital - 5/20/2018

County Executive Steve Schuh will increase counselor and mental health staffing for Anne Arundel County schools within his proposed budget.

The supplemental budget would add $640,000 to hire school counselors, social workers and conflict-addressing staff members, Schuh said Friday. The number of hires has not been released.

Schuh's announcement was on the same day as a deadly shooting at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school where 10 people were killed, many of them students, and more were injured. Events like the Santa Fe shooting - and other high-profile school attacks - have motivated parents and advocates to request increased behavioral health staff at schools.

Advocates believe the staff would help students handle social and emotional issues and act as a preventative effort against school shootings and other incidents. Those advocates also have stressed that a person who has mental health issues does not mean they are more inclined to commit school shootings.

"This proposed increase in funding for school counselors and other mental health professionals will help provide the resources needed to ensure social and emotional support for our students," Schuh said in a statement.

The Anne Arundel County Council is reviewing Schuh's $1.59 billion budget, which included 80 new educators. About 50 of those were teachers to reduce class sizes for the largest classrooms in the county.

The Board of Education's proposed budget requested 14 school counselors, six psychologists and eight social workers.

Schuh's initial budget included two psychologists but no counselors or social workers.

The council has been considering adding teachers and more mental health staff to the budget, but first they had to find places to reduce funding. Schuh's supplemental budget will go before the council, which must pass a budget by mid-June.

Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, said Schuh's supplemental budget was a good first step.

"This goes part way in addressing behavioral health," Trumbauer said. "The need for more classroom teachers to reduce class sizes, that is a priority for me, and I believe it is a priority for the majority of the council as well."

The money for Schuh's announcement was made possible by $600,000 in savings from the recent arbitration decision against the county in favor of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1563.

The union's contract reduced how long it takes firefighters to reach maximum salary while also increasing the amount of money made at each step. The increases are expected to cost about $4 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget.

The deal also removed some yearly allowances for firefighters unless they reach maximum employment by June 30. Since the raises are applied on the anniversary date of employment, the county ended up saving money in the budget before the council.

Councilman Derek Fink, R-Pasadena, said Schuh's announcement was a welcome addition.

"All in all we have a pretty good budget," Fink said. "What is the right number, I don't know. If we can add more, I would be supportive of that."

Councilman Jerry Walker, R-Crofton, said more work could be done.

"I'm glad to see he is listening, but we need to make more significant improvements," Walker said. "We also need teachers. Even with the teachers he has proposed at this point, class sizes will still grow."

Credit: By Chase Cook - ccook@capgaznews.com

Caption: Schuh

 
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