The Mercer Island city council directed staff to restore two elementary school mental health counselor positions using one-time savings from the city’s 2018 fiscal year at the April 30 special meeting.
The decision comes after the city’s Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS) department and Mercer Island Schools Foundation (MISF) offered $87,000 to temporarily restore a single counselor after the positions were terminated in the aftermath of city budget cuts. The city declined the offered funding in favor of using the $170,000 saved during 2018 by vacant positions in MIYFS and increased thrift store sales.
“Elementary school mental health counselors are an important piece of successful learning. The partnership to fund the eliminated counselor position with MIYFS was an opportunity to fund a real need,” MISF Executive Director, Penny Yantis said. “The city finding funds for this position eliminates the need to partner with MIYFS, at this time. It also allows the Schools Foundation to increase their investment in excellence in teaching and learning in our community schools. In the future, we are hopeful the city and community will find a way to secure sustainable funding for the important counseling positions needed across the district.”
The one-time funding will also pay for an administrative assistant through 2020.
The council was notified of the saved funds by city staff who presented alternative funding resources and general history of the MIYFS at the special meeting last week. The review comes after the city was forced to cut its annual support for the MIYFS as it attempts to balance a projected structural budget deficit.
“I am pleased that the city was able to fully fund the school-based mental health counselors through 2020. Members of the community with whom I have spoken about the council’s decision expressed their overwhelming support,” Councilmember Benson Wong said. “Unfortunately, studies show that many of our students experience anxiety, stress and depression. Providing accessible counseling services is essential if we want to ensure the emotional health of our youth.”
While the funding is good news for the Mercer Island School District, students and parents, city officials acknowledge that this is still a temporary solution, similar to the offered $87,000, and will only fund the positions through 2020.
Currently, the city is looking for long-term budget solutions in an ongoing process with the MIYFS and MISF.
“The council and the community recognize that the council’s decision is only a short-term solution, and that all stakeholders need to work together to develop a permanent funding solution for our school-based mental health counselors before the next budget cycle.”