Florence School District One to reduce counselors due to budget restraints

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - Teachers and parents are concerned after Florence School District One officials announced they're reducing the Behavioral Health Counselor Program staff and reconstructing the program due to budget constraints.

The program allows students with behavioral and emotional problems to get help from trained counselors. One said they were told about the change last week. Now she said she has to tell parents about the new program called Mental Health Counseling and that she may not be their child's counselor next school year.

The counselor says the BHC program will end after this semester. When that happens, counselors will need to reapply for the new program.

During Thursday night's board meeting, Lisa Spears, the district's BHC clinical supervisor, gave a presentation on the changes to the program.

The proposed structure will have counselors at all secondary schools and special education programs for children with emotional disabilities. Elementary schools will be covered by counselors offsite. Pee Dee Mental Health will also provide five counselors.

Spears said the current cost of the BHC program is $1,349,772. Through attrition over the past couple of years, by cutting positions at a number of schools the district has saved $365,000.

Currently, FSD1 has 18 counselors. The reorganized program will downsize to 14 serving the 21 schools in the district. Spears said the projected cost of the reconstructed program is $649,000, with a total savings of $700,000.

Jessica Moore, an eighth grade English teacher, says the program is too important to downsize.

"It's not an extra; it's a necessity right now," Moore said.

Moore said every day she sees her students, including her daughter, go through emotional and behavioral problems that she doesn't always have the answers to.

"I've watched my behavioral health counselor come in and hold a kid because his autism was making him have an outburst. I mean I've had kids who were involved in self-harm," Moore said.

Moore says she is surprised by the program's downsizing with everything going on in schools, especially the increase in gun violence. Thursday's announcement comes less than a week after a student opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Texas, killing 10 and leaving 10 wounded.

"A mental issue is not an excuse, however he slipped through the cracks at some point. At some point he was a kid who needed help and didn't get any," Moore said.

Moore said she believes the district should not only keep the current program, but bring it back to full strength.

"I can't tell you how many suicides or shootings that our behavioral health counselors have prevented, but the few students the counselors did help, I can tell you it made a difference," Moore said.

Administrators mentioned during the meeting that they are pursuing a grant to add more funding to the program.

Here's the district's full response to the program changes:

The FSD1 Behavioral Health Counselor program will undergo some restructuring, but will continue to exist next school year. Due to budget restraints the program's staff size will be reduced which may require that some schools share a counselor.  The program will focus on its core mission which is to provide mental health counseling services to students.

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