Editor’s note: Information in this article previously was published in the Jan. 24 edition of the Daily Citizen and is being published again as a courtesy to voters ahead of the May 7 election.
WEST LIBERTY – The Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Services (MHDAS) Board of Logan and Champaign Counties is asking voters in both counties to pass a levy this spring to help support school-based services.
The board placed a 0.3-mill levy on the May 7 ballot to respond to an increased need for mental health and substance abuse counseling and prevention services in nine local school districts in the two counties. The board approved putting the levy on the ballot on Jan. 15.
The two-year levy is expected to generate $644,300 per year to help respond to issues such as depression, teen suicide, violence in schools, alcohol and drug abuse and other youth issues. If the levy passes, it is projected to cost the owner of a $100,000 residence $10.50 per year.
Tammy Nicholl, executive director of the MHDAS board, said speaking with service providers involved with local schools, there has been a significant increase in mental health needs for students. Nicholl noted this need has reached a level beyond what a guidance counselor can handle.
“We would really like to respond to that because we think kids need it,” Nicholl said. “There are needs there and we want to be responsive to that. We want the schools to be a place where the learning environment is as healthy and positive and conducive to learning as possible and support what they’re trying to do.
“We also know that getting people to access services with stigma and other things that keep people from coming in the front door of a community mental health agency might be a barrier we could do away with if we could see students at school,” she said.
Given the number of suicides locally and throughout Ohio along with drug addiction, Nicholl said, prevention is the way to get ahead of these issues by providing resources as early as possible.
Nicholl said these services have been provided more this school year compared to the previous one.
She added Consolidated Care has a presence in almost all school districts in both counties with a representative able to provide behavioral health treatment services a few days a week.
“What we know from their experience and hearing from the administrators in the buildings is that there’s still a lot of unmet needs,” Nicholl said. “It’s not necessarily all about clinical counseling, but other supports that they could use.”
Plan for expanded services
With the additional levy funding, Nicholl said, the board’s proposal is to adopt a care team model.
“Not just therapy, not just a licensed counselor – knowing that there are some students that would benefit from having a counselor on site who could see them and provide therapy – but also a case manager that could connect with families and build that bridge between the school and the family and maybe identify needs where the family could be connected to other services and do that social worker case management role,” Nicholl said. “We would also like to have the expertise of a prevention specialist that would really help to coordinate and provide some consultation to the school staff that are delivering prevention but be able to give them that level of support that we are not currently able to do on a more consistent basis.”
Nicholl said the board wants to start providing improved services starting next fall with two therapists and social worker positions. When the new levy money comes in early 2021, the board would then expand the teams with behavioral support specialists and prevention service specialists.
If the levy fails, Nicholl said, the board would not be able to implement the program.
“In my mind, that’s kind of a huge hit to the direction and the planning that both we and the schools have been doing around trying to provide those supportive schools and creating safer school environments,” Nicholl said. “We know that with our current allocations we are just not able to build up that infrastructure and fund it.”
The last time the board had a levy on the ballot in November 2016, the replacement levy passed 57 percent to 42 percent in Champaign County. This 0.7-mill levy will be up for renewal in 2021.
“My hope is that if we can pass the 0.3-mill additional levy, that in 2021 we would like to combine the two and have a 1-mill levy that would provide ongoing services,” Nicholl said.