The New Paltz School Board would like a full-time substance abuse counselor in the district, but the proposal they’re reviewing could be a tough sell when finances are so uncertain. Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina thought that $75,000 would allow the district to contract for a full-time substance abuse counselor through Step One. That’s $15,000 more than was budgeted for the position. Having presented the facts, Urbina-Medina awaited a board decision on how to proceed.
“I think this is a path we must continue down,” said Diana Armstead, noting that people who continue to receive these services are much less likely to relapse or overdose than the people whose programs were shuttered due to the pandemic.
For Teresa Thompson, however, the idea of hiring a counselor while neglecting sports teams would cross a line. “If you’re gonna be hiring a substance abuse counselor,” she said, “then you’d better be hiring a trainer.”
Thompson initially offered a broader fiscal concern. “Based on what we heard earlier regarding finances,” she said, “frankly, I’m petrified.” How much will it cost to continue providing all educational services during the pandemic? How much aid might school districts expect? “I don’t think we can hire anybody,” Thompson said. “I know we need a lot of things. Athletic trainer, I know we need, you know, this other position, but we are facing grim, grim times.”
Armstead said a counselor was necessary for the health and well-being of students, “and I think we would be negligent to set that aside.”
Thompson wondered if trustees might later find that they “have to cut some of our teachers” if this money was committed.
Bianca Tanis was ready with an alternate way to provide some of the funding. “It doesn’t look like unified sports is going to happen this year,” she said.
“It might,” Thompson interjected. High-contact sports like basketball aren’t played until spring, and Thompson has heard that a full sports program is available in some Massachusetts districts, suggesting that it could be possible at some future time under New York guidelines.
“What would benefit students the most this year?” asked Tanis, stressing that this would be a shift of funds from sports to this counselor for this year only.
“I don’t even want to talk about it,” said Thompson. “If you’re gonna be hiring a substance abuse counselor, then you’d better be hiring a trainer.”
“But we can’t have contact sports,” said Tanis. Three condensed seasons of lower-contact sports are proposed under new state guidance, but superintendent Urbina-Medina noted during the meeting that the employees who prepare those fields are presently focused on getting buildings ready ahead of the anticipated return of students and teachers.
“There are still other sports,” Thompson said. Under the guidelines now emerging, some athletics might begin as early as September 21. “If we’re gonna have a substance abuse counselor and we’re gonna cut the trainer, no.”
Michael O’Donnell successfully redirected the conversation to finding a way to keep within the established $60,000 budget, suggesting, “Let’s talk about the shortest possible contract.”
Having the superintendent explore that option met with general approval, with board president Glenn LaPolt noting that one advantage of contracting through an agency was that district officials wouldn’t have to fire someone should the money run out.