Tucked inside the omnibus education bill, passed by the Legislature and signed into law this summer by Gov. Jim Justice, is a promise of $30 million to fund support services for school children across the state.

Some school administrators are plowing ahead as if the money is already in place – but is not. Others are taking a more cautious approach and still others are tapping other programs to bring mental health professionals – including social workers, psychologists, and counselors – into the schools.

All things being equal, and they never are, each of the state’s 55 school districts would receive about $545,000.

But several school district authorities say they have not seen any new dollars from the state. Classes across southern West Virginia have been up and running – in most districts – for the past three weeks.

Greenbrier County Superintendent Jeff Bryant, who oversees 13 different schools and the education of roughly 4,962 students in his county, believes the education reform bill has made a positive impact on Greenbrier County Schools and given them the chance to hire more support staff. 

Even prior to passage of the education reform bill, it has been a Greenbrier County Schools priority to make counselors available to all elementary, middle and high school students, Bryant said.

With the new funding, Bryant said, the county has hired a countywide school psychologist, something the county hadn’t had before. 

Also, Greenbrier County Schools now offers a full-time learning center for its most at-risk youth, Bryant said. 

Some counties are still waiting on the funding but are planning how to put the money to work. 

Johnathan McPherson, Monroe County’s assistant superintendent, said the county has not hired any additional support service workers for the county’s five schools and 1,829 students, but those plans are in place once state funding comes through.

“We know that’s something the Legislature has promised, but right now, we haven’t seen it just yet,” McPherson said. “We’re not saying we won’t be hiring on additional support staff, but we aren’t doing so at this time.”

Summers County Superintendent Kim Rodes told The Register-Herald she doesn’t believe the county will see funding for wrap-around services until the 2020-21 school year; however, the school system is already working in other ways to offer support services for students.

Rodes said the county received a grant from Rainelle Medical Health recently that pays for officials from the health clinic to come into each of the five schools in the county to set up shop and offer support services. 

Summers School District accounts for 1,559 students.

“We are very fortunate to have them in all five of our schools, and all students currently have the opportunity to receive mental health counseling within each of those schools,” she said. “What’s neat about this is that we’ve brought the clinic to the students, so attendance doesn’t get caught in the crossfire of children receiving the support services they need. 

“The need for support services just keeps growing,” Rodes said. “We’re dealing with issues now that we weren’t dealing with 10 years ago, and we’re dealing with issues that were just unheard of 20 years ago.” 

Rodes said once the county receives the state funding for support services, a social worker will be hired to serve all public schools. 

Raleigh County Schools already had eight social workers, but four more were hired for the new school year through the Community in Schools program. 

Community in Schools is a dropout prevention program using a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to helping at-risk and economically disadvantaged youth succeed in school. Not affiliated with the education reform bill, it has expanded throughout the state this past year, leaving footprints in Raleigh, Fayette and Wyoming counties. School officials see opportunities with the program to forge community partnerships to bring resources into schools to help remove barriers to student learning.

Now that the county has 12 social workers, Superintendent David Price said they are working to serve the most at-risk schools in the county, which are classified as feeder schools of Woodrow Wilson High School — including Beckley Stratton Middle, Stratton Elementary, Beckley Elementary and Mabscott Elementary. 

Price said Raleigh County, which has 26 schools educating 12,149 students, has not yet seen the state funding, but says the opportunities provided through Communities in Schools have freed up funding for school officials to fill other positions. 

“Right now, we haven’t hired additional counselors,” Price said. “We are still trying to fill school counselor vacancies and find applicants with qualifications for those positions. Those are just positions we want to evaluate very closely.”  

Despite not seeing the additional funding from House Bill 206, Fayette County Schools has hired additional support service positions, including a guidance counselor and two social workers. 

Assistant Superintendent Anna Kincaid-Cline said the new positions were also funded through the Communities in Schools program, and they will be serving the new Oak Hill Middle School, New River Intermediate and New River Primary. 

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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