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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

SMMUSD Board Agrees to Sign MOU to Cover Mental Health Service Costs

BY JULIE FULMER WALLACH


The board of education approved an MOU between the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health in a 5-1 vote, with Ben Allen voting against the motion and Laurie Lieberman absent.
Board members expressed their concern about how the DMH handles services under AB 3632, the mandate that outgoing Governor Schwarzenegger blue-penciled last year, which funds services to students with Individualized Education Programs who also receive mental health services.
Allen said, “I am under the impression that school districts have not been dealt with particularly good faith in this manner.”
Board member Nimish Patel shared, “I am outraged by this issue. We are already facing a devastating budget crisis and we’re faced with approximately $200,000 a month that we didn’t account for in our budget.”
At the meeting, Allen asked Tri-City Special Education Local Planning Area Director Jeanne Davis if “other districts are paying the services because there’s no other choice?”
Davis responded, “Yes. If we were to say Monday, we’re going to take over our own services, we would probably face a number of due process hearings that would cost as much as this is costing.”
According to superintendent Tim Cuneo, there are currently 15 students placed by DMH at residential treatment centers and 59 students receiving outpatient IEP-based mental health services from DMH.
Cuneo’s report regarding the MOU states, “Because the districts did not have adequate time to develop alternate means of providing these services, and because the law does not allow for an interruption in IEP services, most districts are opting to contract directly with county DMH to provide these services.
“Additional cost to the district from providing these services through contracting with DMH is approximately $250,000 per month.”
According to an information packet provided by a group of parents and professionals who are working on legislation to reinstate AB 3632, “Several county mental health agencies have already notified school districts that they will no longer accept new referrals of children with mental health needs. Most school agencies do not have the capacity, expertise, or infrastructure to provide these services, nor do they have adequate funding to cover these new costs.” Davis added, “We need to have a plan for this very, very needy group of students.”

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