Thursday, September 27, 2012

A Bargain At Twice The Price

One of the things I'm cognizant of it getting good value for where we spend our precious resources.  So it might surprise folks to learn that I advocated for a 50% increase in an expenditure this past week.

Like many public schools districts, LASD contracts for mental health services through an outside agency.  In our case, the Community Health Awareness Council (or CACH) provides these services to LASD, as well as to other neighboring districts. 

What do these services look like?  CHAC professionals work with district students on a wide range of issues, ranging from depression and suicide to anti-social outbursts and bullying to divorce and family challenges.  Sometimes the family seeks help and LASD refers them to CHAC, and in other cases District personnel identify an issue and confer with the family to recommend that a discussion be opened.  I'm painting a broad picture, because the services really are tailored to the needs of the people involved.

I'm overwhelmed by the stories of people who have received these services.  By definition, the services are rendered at a critical time of need.  A child is in crisis, and CHAC is there to help. For some folks, it is a first contact point to begin to understand an issue their child is wrestling with.  Others may engage with CHAC directly to work through a problem over a period of time. The feedback we get is remarkably consistent- families are extremely grateful that the service was there when they needed it most.

Last year, LASD students received about 4500 hours of services, which works out to about 1 hour per student per year.  We make a small contribution to CHAC to help offset the costs of the services, but the amount we give is very small by comparison to what we get.  Last year, we donated  $31,476 to CHAC.  That means our kids received assistance from top-flight professionals for about $7/hour.  You read that right- $7 per hour.  And the preceding 10 years of contributions have been pretty bleak.

Surrounding districts have been contributing at a rate of about $10-$14 per hour of service received.  As a community, we benefit so much from these services, it doesn't feel right that we were so far off the scale.  Yes, times are tight.  Yes, we still ask the PTA to buy things like pencils and kleenex.  Over the past several years, the only increase in teacher compensation has been in their health care costs.  But this is a service we absolutely must have.  Our District is fortunate to have many more resources than many of those around us.  It just didn't feel right to continue to receive the services without at least stepping up the contribution to be in line with other districts.  I'm proud to say that we increased our contribution to $45,000 for this year.  The services CHAC provides are incredibly important to our kids, and I'm very grateful to the folks at CHAC.

I'd also like to thank LASD Board member Steve Taglio for calling this out.  I've been on the LASD Board for 3 years, and we've always know that we have received great service from CHAC and that it has been a "great bargain".  There's a difference between "a bargain" and " not paying our share".  Steve gathered the data to put it into context, which I think helped the Board make this decision.  Thanks, Steve.  And thanks to Monique Kane and the team at CHAC