In budget, Park City superintendent outlines goals

Student wellness, special education services identified as needs

Ember Conley would like to see the Park City School District beef up its student wellness and special education services.

Those are two areas of need Conley, the district’s superintendent, highlighted last week in an annual preliminary budget presentation to the Park City Board of Education. In total, Conley’s budget calls for the school board to allocate nearly $4.2 million for more than 40 new positions or initiatives, many aimed at addressing deficiencies in student mental health services and the special education program.

In an interview, Conley said her budget proposal is a broad look at needs within the school system and is designed to comply with the next step in the district learning plan, the document that serves as a blueprint for school officials. Efforts over the last three years have been focused on funneling money into the classroom for things such as assessments, professional development, reshaping the curriculum and improving instruction. While those elements are also present in this year’s proposal, many of the big-ticket items focus on intervention and enrichment.

“You have to look at, ‘What types of intervention do our students need, and what are the real needs that are obstacles to their learning?’” Conley said. “And as we know, things like mental wellness and nutrition, all of those things affect our children.”

To that end, notable elements in Conley’s proposal include four new school psychologists, two behavior specialists, an elementary behavior disorder teacher, special education staff members, school counselors and a funding increase for school nurses.

“We are really focusing on that top-level tier, where the most intensive students with the most intensive needs have to be addressed,” she said.

The proposal also includes roughly $150,000 for an associate superintendent of student wellness, a cabinet-level role that would be tasked with overseeing the district’s mental health services, among other initiatives. Conley said the position would alleviate the workload burden that has fallen on the shoulders of several school officials after the district bought Tom Van Gorder, a longtime associate superintendent, out of the remainder of his contract last year in an attempt to free up more money for the classroom.

“You have staff, you have students, you have programs that have to be supervised and managed,” she said. “… That position is critical in being able to deliver the programs and being able to implement some of the things that we need to implement in a fashion that’s acceptable.”

As well as the wellness and special education components, the proposal also includes money to improve classroom instruction, such as a request for secondary-level academic interventionists and additional teachers throughout the district. It also allots more than $150,000 to put full-time Latino outreach coordinators in every school.

The Board of Education has until June 22 to pass a final budget for the 2017-2018 school year. Julie Eihausen, president of the school board, said that budget is unlikely to include everything the superintendent outlined. The board is committed to improving student mental wellness and special education services but must be responsible in allocating the district’s resources. One option, she said, is to examine which responsibilities highlighted in the proposal could be handled by current staff members and which require new positions.

“I do think we need to phase it in,” she said, adding that the budget proposal is a valuable exercise, but isn’t necessarily designed to be adopted wholesale.

“I personally am a big fan of, ‘We don’t spend beyond our means,’” she added. “However, if there are mental health needs that we’ve not kept up with as much as we should have … at some point you hit a crisis point and you have to do a lot. The mental health issues of our students need to be addressed.”


Wasatch County School District raises taxes

During the hearing, Cindy Cossairt of Heber City offered her observation that “the education system is turning into socialism” because “you’re asking neighbors to pay for neighbors’ children.”

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