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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 17, 2017

Area lawmaker says mental health needs to be priority in New London school district

Nov 21, 2017

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News

 

NEW LONDON — With the holidays around the corner and the New Year on the horizon, the New London School Board invited lawmaker Dave Heaton to discuss with them the legislative priorities for education in 2018 during their meeting on Monday, Nov. 20.

Heaton, with Iowa House District 84, said that he doesn’t yet have a feel for what this next legislative session is going to look like, but he does know revenues in education are low. He said because agriculture prices “aren’t so good” and sales tax is comparable with the previous year, school districts are “in a pickle.”

“I can’t give you anything to say about the budget, except we do have debt at this time we have to repay, and at this time, we are unsure of the revenue that is going to come in,” Heaton said.

Heaton also wants to make children’s mental health more of a priority in the New London Community School District. When he visited Cedar Rapids, Heaton said he was impressed with the facilities they used, Tanager Place Clinic, which outpatients 6,000 students in the school district.

Heaton referenced Young House Family Services in Burlington as an equivalent to similar services in Southeast Iowa.

“You’ve got to get early intervention if this is going to work,” Heaton said. “You can’t wait until a kid has an episode and you have to find a bed for them.”

Principal at Clark Elementary Todd Palmatier said that Young House currently has no therapists they can send to the New London School District, although there was a program last year where a therapist visited once a week children who qualified for Title 19 Medicaid.

“It’s the middle kids we couldn’t find support for,” Palmatier said. “We have not had anyone in our building come (this year) because Young House can’t find a therapist to come. There’s a lack of people for that job.”

“We know it’s a need and we’re trying to do what we can,” Heaton countered. “We have counties providing for mental health with the same dollar amount they were in 1992.”

Superintendent for New London School District Chad Wahls invited Heaton to tour their schools some time in the next month to see how a rural school district has allocated their funds and what they need still from the state.

“We want to show you where we put our dollars,” Wahls said. “It would just be nice for you to see small schools tend to struggle, but we have people making good, right decisions and a community supporting behind it. We can’t continue to do it as a community. We need the state to support us as well.”

As for the legislative session in January, Heaton said he wants to resist the Education Savings Account program, which families could use to pay for private school tuition. Heaton not only doesn’t think the state can afford it, but he doesn’t see a need for it when districts have open enrollment options.

“I don’t think we need to open up that can of worms,” Heaton said. “I don’t like to see public money encroaching into the area of private schools.” Heaton added, however, that if that is what rural school districts want to see, that he still is representing them.

“I’m hesitant on it, let’s put it that way,” he said.

Before Heaton left, he reassured the Board, “I think everyone would like to do as much as possible for you guys. Everyone out there, educating our children is a number one priority. That’s why when we meet in January, you’ll get the first bite of that apple, and we’ll stick with it.”

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