Ramapo Central parents protest cuts to school mental health services

An undated file photo of a school bus. An undated file photo of a school bus. Photo Credit: Newsday

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Parents in the Ramapo Central School District on Wednesday began questioning proposed cuts to mental health services at their schools that district officials unveiled the night before to help close a nearly $11 million budget gap.

"As we know from recent events, there is much need in schools," said Bruce Cain, a parent of two students at Cherry Lane Elementary School in Suffern, which is in the Ramapo Central School District. "These are vital positions."

Educators and parents throughout the region have called for the preservation or restoration of mental health services in reaction to the Dec. 14 school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Although many school districts told Newsday in a recent survey that they would hold on tight to the positions in planning their 2013-14 budgets, Ramapo Central is among the first in the Hudson Valley to decide that it would cut such services.

"They should keep as many resources as possible," said another Cherry Lane parent, James Doino, who added that his daughter's school social worker has "done wonders" for his family as he and his wife grapple with a separation.

At a school district meeting Tuesday night, education officials said they need to close a $10.7 million gap in an estimated $135 million budget for 2013-14. In a detailed presentation, administrators showed expenses rising, particularly from pension contributions, and revenues failing to keep pace.

As part of their proposed cuts, officials recommended the elimination of 38 full-time jobs, including such positions as teaching assistants, library specialists, social workers and a school psychologist. This would leave just two social workers to share the caseload at five elementary schools.

"These recommended reductions reflect the best, balanced approach to continuing to ensure a high-quality educational experience for all students while remaining cognizant of the financial challenges our district faces," said Stephen Walker, assistant superintendent for human resources.

Another support service on the chopping block is the district's Family Resource Center program in Ramapo. Operated out of the elementary schools, the program links the county's social services to students in need, providing coats for needy kids or even connecting homeless families with housing.

BOCES Family Resource Center coordinator Joan Raynor said the elimination in Ramapo to save $95,000 "would be a great disservice to children and parents."

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