The Dolores Schools board of education approved the hire of two social workers on Wednesday, despite a claim that the decision violated the district’s hiring policy.
Superintendent Scott Cooper and Elementary Principal Gary Livick announced during the school board meeting that they decided to hire the social workers, Catherine Anliker and Allison Taylor, as part of their efforts to improve mental health resources for students. Board vice president Rebecca Frasier pointed out that although Cooper had brought up the possibility of hiring a counselor in February, the board never voted to create two staff positions or approved a job description for social workers, which she said was a breach of district policy. Despite the apparent violation of policy, the board voted to go ahead with the hires.
At the school board meeting on Feb. 23, Cooper asked the board for permission to advertise for a new full-time elementary counselor because the current counselor, Karen Finch, wanted to move to a part-time role. Although Cooper said he received a “nod of approval” from the rest of the board, minutes for that meeting show they did not take a vote. Finch has since resigned, and Cooper said he and Livick decided to advertise for two counselors, then later decided to hire social workers.
“There are more social workers out there than counselors,” Cooper said. “During all of our mental health research, we’re determining that a lot of the home stressors are causing this anxiety and depression that students are feeling, so social workers are better networked for that dynamic.”
Frasier said none of these decisions have come before the board for approval. She was especially concerned, she said, because the preliminary budget the board had discussed earlier in the evening included $512,247 more in expenditures than in expected revenue, and she didn’t believe the board should approve a new employee without further discussion.
“It’s not just about a nod of blessing,” she said.
Dolores policy on professional staff positions states that “all instructional, administrative and supervisory positions in the school district shall be established initially by the Board.” It requires that the board approve the broad function of all new positions, as well as all changes in existing staff responsibilities. The superintendent is in charge of writing detailed job descriptions.
Board president Linnea Vass said one counselor wasn’t enough to serve the roughly 500 students in the elementary school, so she believed the new social worker positions were necessary. She also pointed out that neither social worker would receive as high a salary as Finch, who had worked in the district for many years.
The approval of the new hires was included in the action items at the end of the board meeting, along with nine newly hired teachers and the adoption of several amendments to school policy, to be enacted with a single vote. Frasier asked if the board could remove the newly created social worker position from the action items for a separate vote, but was voted down, 3-2, with Frasier and Deanna Prock voting “yes.” In the end, the board voted 4-1 to approve all new hires, including both social workers. Frasier cast the single “no” vote.
On Thursday morning, Frasier emailed the relevant school district policy to all staff members who attended the board meeting.
“I will be updating all board members individually of this breach in policy,” she wrote in the email.
Cooper said Anliker and Taylor would provide many of the same services Finch did during her time at the school, including being trained to perform low-level suicide risk assessments for students. The School Social Work Association of America defines social workers as “trained mental health professionals” who can perform crisis intervention, classroom support and counseling, among other services. Anliker and Taylor will start work during the 2017-2018 school year.
The Dolores School Board will hold a special budget meeting on June 27.