The Oak Park Elementary Schools District 97 Board of Education is poised to hire additional staff and make personnel changes that will cost around $1 million.
According to D97 officials, the new hires and replacements for the 2018-19 school year are designed to address the mental and emotional health challenges that are becoming increasingly common among students in the district’s general population.
The staffing plan, the district’s first since the successful passage of two funding referenda last April, is also one of the first major spending decisions made by D97 officials with Illinois’ new school funding formula in mind.
The district plans to hire 12 new full-time staff — including one student support specialist, four new social workers, one school psychologist, three interventionists and four special education teachers.
In addition, two new assistant principal positions will replace student support specialists at Irving and Holmes schools.
At the April 24 school board meeting, a small group of school social workers and psychologists said that they must juggle meeting the needs of special education students with an increasing number of students in the general population who are experiencing mental and emotional health issues.
Carolyn Doyle, one of two school social workers at Julian Middle School, said that over the last two weeks she had treated eight students who were having suicidal thoughts — two of whom were admitted to the hospital.
Nathan Murawski, Julian’s other social worker, said so far this school year he’s treated 22 students who “presented self-harm to the point where they were hospitalized,” up from just seven cases during the entire 2016-17 school year.
“Over the past five years, we have seen an ever-steady uptick in mental health issues impacting our middle school students,” said Doyle, an 11-year veteran in the district. “[Students are] accessing our services at unsustainable rates.”
School board members are expected to approve the personnel plan — which the district will fund with new dollars from the state and by reallocating money from other parts of its budget — on May 8.
The plan, school officials said in an April 24 memo, represents a break from the past, when instructional support staff were assigned through a “one-size-fits-all approach.”
“Every school was allocated a full time social worker, full time school nurse, full time language arts specialist, and full time instructional coach regardless of the number of students who attended the school,” according to the memo, which was drafted by five top administrators, including Laurie Campbell, assistant superintendent for human resources.
This most recent staffing plan, district officials said, accounts “for the varying enrollments and student needs at each school” and also takes into consideration the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act, a measure signed into law last August that governs how school districts receive most of their state funding.
The new evidence-based funding model allocates money to districts based, in part, on 27 research-based elements that education experts believe have the biggest effect on students’ academic progress.
Those “essential elements,” as state education officials describe them, include teacher training, special education services and cost for class size ratios.
District officials evaluated all of the staffing requests using the state’s evidence-based funding model as a guide. For instance, the district’s decision to replace the two student support specialists with assistant principals was based, in part, on the fact that student enrollment at both Irving and Holmes passed the minimum threshold above which the fund model calls for schools to have a principal and assistant principal.
District officials said that the replacements were based on a need for more staff evaluation and management at the two schools.
In the district’s memo, officials stated that the state’s new funding formula “demonstrates new mindsets for understanding the relationship between equity, adequacy, and student outcomes.”