Social worker added to schools’ budget

BAR HARBOR — Next year’s proposed budget for the Mount Desert Island Regional School System’s (MDIRSS) central office and shared services calls for adding a social worker to help meet the needs of students throughout the district with social, emotional and behavioral problems.

The school system board discussed the $2.1 million budget Monday night and is expected to hold a special meeting within the next two weeks to vote on it. Registered voters in the eight MDIRSS towns will be asked to approve the budget at the school system’s annual budget meeting Dec. 16 at MDI High School.

As for the new social worker position, Superintendent Marc Gousse said the schools have recently experienced a huge increase in the need for “behavioral and social supports” for students.

“We are seeing more and more students — and not just special education students — coming to school with some pretty profound needs,” he said. “It could be behavioral, post-traumatic stress, social/emotional trauma.

“The right thing to do is to work with these children to keep them in school,” Gousse continued. “But it’s hard, hard work when some of their behaviors are impacting other students and staff.”

Most of the schools in the district do not have social workers on staff, and teachers and guidance counselors typically don’t have the training or expertise to provide the support that more and more students need. In some cases, Gousse said, schools currently have no option but to refer students with behavioral problems to special education.

“But that is really not the right approach,” he said. “The principals are saying they need somebody who can assess what a child’s specific needs are and provide modeling and training to positively impact the behavior.”

As for why schools are now seeing more and more students with emotional and behavioral problems, Gousse said, “The erosion of social services at the federal and state levels and within our communities has, by default, cascaded these issues into the schools. So, we work with children, but we also need to see what resources we can provide for families to support these children.”

There are currently two full-time social workers in the school system. Edith Dubois spends 80 percent of her time at Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor; the rest of the time she is available to other schools in the district. Basil Steele is at MDI High School.

Trenton Elementary School Principal Mike Zboray said it takes a lot of time and effort to provide support for children who come to school with emotional trauma and to try to ensure that they can learn.

“Often, principals are doing a lot of that work, and what ends up happening is that other pieces of our job sort of falls by the wayside,” he said.

Gloria Delsandro, the principal at Mount Desert Elementary School, agreed.

“I shifted resources this year to pay more attention to this and provide support for teachers,” she said. “Teaching is not for the faint of heart, and these folks are doing remarkable work. They want to serve all the students and some kids just need a little extra help.”

Delsandro said the proposed new social worker position also is needed to help provide more support for parents “because we know that if these kiddos are struggling at school, they’re struggling at home.”

Adding a full-time social worker to the school system staff would cost an estimated $90,000 in salary and benefits. But the school system would recoup that cost by billing the individual schools based on their use of the social worker’s services.

Other budget additions

The proposed $2.1 million budget for the school system’s central office for next year is $209,315 more than the current year’s budget, an increase of 11 percent. Salaries and benefits account for about 3.5 percent of the increase.

As for new spending, the school board plans to budget $16,500 to start a retirement plan for central office staff who do not currently have one. Teachers and administrators are eligible for benefits through the Maine Public Employees Retirement System.

Next year’s budget also includes $25,000 for what Gousse described as “resources for support of the collective bargaining process” and $15,000 for additional clerical support in special services.

“We’re seeing more need for special education, and these good people [who work in special services] are overwhelmed … with all the required reporting and processing of data,” Gousse said.

He said the new half-time position also would help reduce the amount of time-consuming paperwork that the school nurses have to do.

Gousse forgoes raise

Gousse told the school board that he is not asking for an increase in his annual salary, which currently is $147,331.

“I’m very fortunate to be in the position I am,” he said. “I recognize that I’m compensated very, very well and I’m treated very, very well.

“There are some big asks in this budget, and I would like any consideration for increases to go to areas that are going to focus on student and staff supports.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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