Florence District One behavior health staff asking for funding help

FLORENCE, SC (WBTW) – Florence School District One board members met Thursday night for a final public hearing on the coming year’s budget–though some staff members say they aren’t being heard.

“It’s been invaluable,” parent Michelle Bailey said of the districts behavioral health program.

Bailey’s son is on the autism spectrum and needs extra help to reach his potential in school. That’s why Bailey and several other parents and teachers came out to support their behavioral health staff Thursday.

“Without special education and behavioral health specialists, our children need that extra TLC and that extra support system; I don’t think the success rate would be as great.”

News 13 spoke to several behavioral health specialists who work for the district who asked not to be named in this report.

They told us while the behavioral health staff serves thousands of Florence One students, each year they work with less and less money.

“We would have to tell the superintendent to cut something else,” said board chair Barry Townsend. He said he knows about the problem and wishes the board could do more to help.

“The question I have is what do we cut?” Townsend asked. “Do we cut 21 teacher positions?”

The district currently employs 20 behavioral health specialists, and many have to split their time between multiple schools in a given week.

For years, the district counted on revenue from Medicaid billing to pay for specialists’ salaries, and left those needs out of the general fund budget, over which the board has final say. But, not every student is eligible for Medicaid–and all students must be helped when they need it regardless of resources–so the revenue simply isn’t there, which could mean cuts to those programs.

“No one has ever questioned the value that they add,” explained Townsend of the counselors. “But, there are a lot of things that we know will add value that we can’t do.”

District officials said because the general fund budget is the main priority right now, it could be some time before those behavioral health specialists learn the fate of their programs.

Michelle Bailey said without the dedicated counselors and specialists in Florence District One, her son would not be getting ready to walk at his high school graduation on Friday, and attend Florence-Darlington Tech in the fall.

“It’s been a long 13 years of education,” Bailey recalled. “Without the educators and definitely without the behavioral health counselors, we wouldn’t be here.”

The general fund budget must be approved by July 1.