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Wauwatosa School Board calls on Governor and state lawmakers to increase state funding for mental health support in schools

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The Wauwatosa School Board is calling on Governor Tony Evers and the State Legislature to:

  • Allocate sufficient, sustainable and predictable state funding enabling school districts to employ sufficient mental professionals, provide professional development to all staff, and make comprehensive mental health screenings available for all students while preventing an increase in local property taxes.
  • Address the shortage of mental health professionals in our state qualified to address the needs of school-age children.

 

In a formal resolution, unanimously approved by the Wauwatosa School Board during its meeting on January 27, board members asked for state lawmakers to take specific action to address shortages of mental health professionals in Wauwatosa and across Wisconsin.

 

“We are making this proposal because, in order for kids to learn, they have to have basic needs met,” said Leigh Anne Fraley, a Wauwatosa School Board member.

 

The resolution was developed and brought forth from the Board’s Legislative Advocacy Committee, which Fraley and School Board Vice President Shawn Rolland sit on, along with community members and parents. The committee gathered broad community feedback and input on the resolution from parents, community members, area hospitals, city leaders, and students. 

 

Still, Fraley realizes some citizens might not understand why providing mental health care and resources should be a responsibility of a school district. 

 

“In order to educate students, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that we have to address these exact issues so that students’ brains are actually ready to learn,” said Fraley during the Board’s discussion of the resolution. “At the end of the day, we’re not going to get to the Vision of the Graduate without mental health support.”

 

The resolution highlights how Wisconsin and the Wauwatosa School District are lagging far behind recommended student-to-mental-health professional ratios.

 

For example, 1:250 is the National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) recommendation for a social-worker-to-student ratio for an average school population and 1:50 is NASW’s recommended ratio for a student population with intensive needs.

 

In Wauwatosa Public Schools, the social-worker-to-high-school-student ratio is 1 social worker for every 1,619 students and in middle school, there are no social workers. Zero. 

 

“The numbers tell the story,” said Rolland. “Our students need more mental health professionals in their schools so more of them can thrive academically.”

 

Superintendent Phil Ertl says the biggest challenge for Districts in responding to the need is the lack of funding from the state legislature to support what lawmakers, health professionals, and educators all see as a growing epidemic. 

 

“When you look back 10-15 years ago, were the mental health needs as high as they are? No. Absolutely not,” said Superintendent Ertl during the Board’s discussion. “We need funding to train people across the district at a foundational level of how to respond to mental health needs, but we also need funding to add more staff who specialize in mental health in order to carry out this work.”

 

As part of the District’s efforts, a Mental Health Committee consisting of the District’s school counselors, psychologists, and social workers was formed last school year and tasked with evaluating what the District is doing systematically to support the mental health needs of students and analyzing what the going well and where opportunities of improvement exist.

 

In a report to the Board on the Mental Health Committee’s work so far, Sonja Phillips, a social worker at Wauwatosa East High School, reiterated what the data already shows; the needs are too great for the number of staff equipped to respond to mental health.

 

“Current staff limits prevent us from doing anything other than managing crisis most of the time,” Phillips said. “We are concerned about the mental health of our teaching staff and how that directly impacts the mental health and wellbeing of students.”