Spokane Public Schools must move immediately to devote more resources to mental health counseling, its governing body was told Wednesday night.
The message was delivered by more than a dozen parents, teachers and students in a budget forum and later during an emotional board meeting in downtown Spokane.
To emphasize her point, Ellen Nessen and several other parents dressed in yellow – “the color of caution and school buses and No. 2 pencils,” she said before delivering her three-step suggestion for improving safety.
Nessen urged better safety, more mental health professionals from kindergarten through high school and a transparent process for the future.
Like others, Nessen demanded immediate action in the wake of the shooting threat made May 30 against Lewis and Clark High School.
In addition to hiring more mental health specialists this summer, attendees urged the district to form an anti-violence task force now, instead of waiting until fall.
Two weeks after his school was rocked by a shooting threat, LC mathematics teacher Matt Tully-Ruppert broke down the numbers before telling a packed room that the district devotes less than one-half of 1 percent of its budget to school safety.
“So, my question: Is safety a priority?” Tully-Ruppert asked the board.
Then Tully-Ruppert broke down as he mentioned his own children and worried out loud that school violence could cost him his life.
For Paige Swayne, the school day begins when she sends her husband – a teacher – and two high schoolers off to LC.
“I don’t feel like there are measures in place that make them safe,” Swayne said.
However, the audience was divided on the issue of arming officers or community resource officers.Armed officers could quickly deal with a shooting, several people noted.
Others questioned the need for more guns in schools. Several students cited bullying as the top cause of social media threats and urged more spending on mental health professionals.
Board members got the same message during a public forum focusing on the district’s budget priorities for the next school year.
“There are kids hurting out there right now,” said Amber Waldref, director of the Zone Project, an organization that’s working to improve conditions for students, families and neighborhoods in northeast Spokane.
Told that the district is hampered by budget constraints in hiring more mental health professionals until 2020, Waldref urged officials to take advantage of upcoming improvements in Medicaid payments for the service.
In other actions, the board approved a new contract that will pay Superintendent Shelley Redinger a base salary of $231,750 annually next year under a three-year contract.
Redinger’s new salary is a 3 percent raise over the $225,000 she is earning this year.
The board also approved cost-of-living raises for principals, certificated managers and other administrators.
Next week, the board will hold a work session on budget development with a goal of providing a preliminary budget to the public on Aug. 1 and a final budget on Aug. 22.
SPS projects $450,220,231 in revenues for the 2018-19 fiscal year, about $14 million above projected expenditures.
Decreasing enrollment will bring a $16 million deficit in 2019-20, the district predicted. However, the district is sitting on a fund balance of $25.8 million, which should keep it in the black at least through 2019-20.