The Mercer Island Youth and Family Services Foundation (MIYFS) and the Mercer Island Schools Foundation (MISF) recently announced a joint effort to fund an elementary school mental health counselor through next school year.
The emergency stop gap funding will be short-term as the position was cut by the city in an effort to make up for deficits after Proposition 1 failed to pass last year. The joint effort comes with an expectation that the city of Mercer Island will eventually be able to reinstate the position with a long-term funding structure for school-based counselors.
“The MIYFS Foundation is keenly aware of the importance and value of having licensed mental health counselors in every school,” MIYFS president Jody Kris said. “The counselors provide the social emotional learning tools that enable our youngest kids to learn and thrive and our older kids to make healthy choices. Their professional interventions forestall mental health hiccups from growing into crises. And when a crisis arises, immediate help is available to children and families.”
The joint declaration made it clear the two foundations expect the city to work with Mercer Island citizens to develop long-term funding solutions.
“Our ability to fund the Youth and Family Services through the general fund is not something we can continue given the significant deficits we’re projecting,” city manager Julie Underwood said. “I think it’s great the community is coming together to solve this and that it is community driven. The more the community is bought into the solution, the more likely that solution will succeed.”
The Mercer Island City Council plans to discuss the issue in greater detail at its April 30 meeting.
According to officials at the MISF, Mercer Island residents have already formed a community coalition that will explore future sustainable funding options.
“It is our hope that the coalition, community members and the city will work together to secure the needed sustainable funding,” MISF executive director Penny Yantis said. “The Foundation is grateful to be able to provide the funding for the 2019-2020 school year. Early identification and intervention of academic, social and emotional needs are essential to overall student achievement.”
Kris added that MIYFS is confident the city will overcome the budget challenges, and that community support will translate into an eventual solution to fund the school counselor program.
“But until that plan can be crafted and adopted, the MIYFS Foundation was unwilling to risk attrition among our experienced and talented counselors,” Kris said. “These highly gifted counselors, with 98 years of collective experience in our schools, have eschewed the higher salaries they could command in private therapy because they are committed to our Island and our kids. It would be a shame to lose any one of them along with the continuity of care they provide for our children.”