JAMESTOWN – Additional support for student mental health services is among the major pillars of Jamestown Public Schools’ proposed spending plan for next year.
The district officials say the global pandemic brought many stressors to students, stressors that are still felt today.
“The first two main pillars of our budget have to do with academic support and coming back from that major learning loss that we suffered, we all suffered as a result of the pandemic. And the second part of that for our kids is the anxiety and depression and social stress and other mental health concerns and behavioral concerns that happened being separated from each other and not having ‘regular school’ for so long,” explained Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Kevin Whitaker during a Tuesday budget hearing.
The allocated academic funding would hire additional AIS teachers district wide, reading teachers at Elementary Schools to close the gap in reading standards that the pandemic created, as well as additional high school teachers to lower the class student to teacher ratio.
“In terms of mental health, we have additional social workers, we’ve got teachers on special assignment who will act as Deans of Students,” says Whitaker. “We have a new pair of professionals we’re looking to create behavioral first responders. Those are people who will be trained in navigating some crisis moments and helping to de escalate students so that they can be passed onto counselors and Assistant Principals and Principals so that we can help to manage kids and keep them in school so they don’t escalate.”
For the community, the Superintendent committed to a zero percent tax increase. However, Whitaker because state funding changes, it can be hard to bring financial stability year-to-year.
“We need to smooth that out. We have to have predictability for our kids, for our parents, for our community so that we can consistently provide a high-level quality product to our community and to our kids every year no matter what funding comes in from the state,” explains Whitaker.
One way to do this, he tells us, is by using reserves funds to smooth out the gaps. Over the next few years, capital improvements are slated to take place at five school buildings.
Next week, residents of the district will not only vote on the budget, but also on two Board of Education members running for re-election: Patrick Slagle and Joseph Pawelski.
“Coming out of COVID, the last two years have been pretty tough. And we’ve got a lot of mental health situations and we’re hiring a lot of new people in this budget. And it’s critical to hire these people so we can address the situation that the children and the students in the district are going through. And the parents too. The parents have been trying to help their kids at home on Zoom and it’s been a tough two years,” says Pawelski.
Though Pawelski says most community concerns are related to the pandemic response, and the after effects, Slagle says the school is readying for the future.
“We’ve set up a lot of reserves so that we can anticipate the future, where that’s gonna hold, so we don’t have the programs we create now, we don’t have to cut next year if funding runs low,” says Slagle. “We have nice reserves established so we can continue to have the beautiful buildings that the students can come and learn safely, environmentally wise . It’s a really great budget to taxpayers, no tax increase. I think 2010 was the last tax increase so we’ve been able to really help the citizens of this community have a great education for their children at very little cost to them.”
The 2022-23 Budget Vote and Board of Education election will be held next Tuesday, May 17th from noon to 9 p.m. at Lincoln Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School and Washington Middle School.