2018-04-12 / Front Page

Funding for Anti-Drug Counselor Discontinued

School Committee Asked to Chip In
By Brooke Constance White

After more than three years of financing a local school counseling position aimed at reducing substance use among students, the Newport Prevention Coalition (NPC) is unable to fund its portion of the position’s salary and has requested that the Newport School Committee shoulder some of the burden, starting in fiscal year 2018-2019.

School committee members discussed the $24,000 cost to the district to help fund the full-time position, at its April 10 meeting.

In 2013, Rhode Island Community Profiles, an organization that offers data on communities, ranked Newport High School students first in the state for lifetime marijuana use and fourth for prescription drug and alcohol use.

“Based on Rhode Island statistics,” said Sarah Dinklage, executive director of Rhode Island Student Assistance Services (RISAS), a statewide initiative to mitigate student substance use, “approximately five students out of a Rhode Island high school classroom of 24 report they’ve used substances in the past month.

“This is a problem that impacts all districts, and so far we’ve got a student assistance counselor in 24 school districts and 47 secondary schools, including Rogers and Thompson.”

NPC, formerly the Newport Substance Abuse Prevention Task Force, is an all-volunteer board funded by federal grants and Rhode Island State Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH). To finance the position, BHDDH provides $42,000 and asks the school district or a local organization to supplement with $24,000 annually.

During the meeting, NPC representatives said that its inability to contribute to the salary is due to a shortage of state funding dollars.

Lisa Ruth currently holds the counseling position and works with students at Rogers High School and Thompson Middle School to decrease drug and alcohol use, enhance the resiliency of students whose parents or guardians are substance abusers, and improve behavior and school attendance, according to a presentation by RISAS.

Dinklage said that having a graduate degree-educated counselor like Ruth teach young Newporters about the effects of substance abuse for only $24,000 a year is a bargain for the community.

Not only is alcohol and drug use correlated with lower grades, Dinklage said, it increases absenteeism and tardiness, which in turn negatively affect the district’s ability to educate Newport students.

From September 2017 to February 2018, Ruth worked with 81 students at Rogers and 86 students at Thompson, providing a prevention education series to 153 seventh graders.

“This is a consumer-friendly program because the students have easy access as [Ruth] is onsite daily,” Dinklage said. “She offers individual and small group counseling, classroom prevention and education, school-wide prevention activities, and she and our organization are available to consult with school staff.”

The topic was listed as a discussion item and could not be voted on until a later meeting, but Committee Member Jo Eva Gaines implored her colleagues to support the request.

“Too many kids are at risk for us not to have these services available,” Gaines said. “We have to do whatever we can to make sure this program is funded.”

On the matter of school start times, Newport School District Superintendent Colleen Jermain told the committee that both Rogers Principal Jared Vance and Newport Area Career and Technical Center’s Program Director Robert Young recommended moving the start time at Rogers from 8:15 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. But, she added, such a change would also impact Thompson and Pell Elementary, the two other Newport schools.

In her discussions with Durham School Services, the district’s bus company, Jermain said that Thompson’s start time would need to be changed to 8 a.m. and Pell’s start time to 8:30 a.m. to allow the buses, which are on a tiered system, to deliver students to each of the schools on time.

The committee voted to push the topic to the next meeting, after Acting Chairman Ray Gomes said the committee needs to ensure that all families understand that a change at Rogers would affect the two other schools.

“There wasn’t much clarity that this would mean a change at all three schools,” Gomes said, “so I think we need to give the community an appropriate amount of time to offer input.”

In other matters:

The committee recognized a group of students for winning in the SkillsUSA Rhode Island Competition. They also recognized the SkillsUSA Rhode Island Educator of the Year, Monica Awde Wlodyka, who is the program instructor for the Academy of Information Technology at Rogers.

The committee unanimously approved a resolution in favor of the proposed state budget, which includes a $250 million bond that would support new school construction or renovation.

Return to top