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Metuchen schools receive public support on mental health initiative

METUCHEN – With public support, school officials will now be able to address the needs of the district’s most struggling students on the middle and elementary school levels through a therapeutic program and additional resources.

Voters came out to the polls on Nov. 5 to either support or not support a separate budget proposal, or second question, for $700,000 for the proposal to increase its school psychologist services; implement a therapeutic program at Campbell Elementary School and Edgar Middle School; increase behavioral support services; increase academic supports and intervention; increase supports and intervention for learning strategies district wide; and clerical assistance.

The question received 1,660 “yes” votes/54% and 1,418 “no” votes/46%.

Schools Superintendent Vincent Caputo and Board of Education President Justin Manley expressed elation and gratitude for the support.

“I’m excited about the new supports that we will be able to offer to our students in the near future,” Caputo said. “There is a lot of work to be done now to prepare and we will be looking for staff and community input as we engage in the planning process. More information will be shared with our stakeholders as we move forward with implementation.”

Caputo said the Metuchen community has always valued well-rounded children.

“Arts, athletics and mental well-being are all equally as important as academic achievement,” he said. “In fact, we believe they are precursors to true lifelong achievement. Our annual goals are organized around the whole child tenets of healthy, safe, engaged, supported, challenged and sustainability. Through the support of our community in passing this question, we will now be able to bring in a therapeutic program for our most struggling students in the middle school and elementary school, hire additional psychologists and behavior analysts to help even more students, teachers and parents, and provide additional academic, emotional and behavioral supports and interventions to all of our students.”

Manley said the district will immediately act on the initiative, which is a broad based plan to expand mental health and emotional support services for all students throughout the district.

“We’re grateful Tuesday’s vote endorsed all the work our leadership team and many members of our education team put forth,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to serve the ‘whole child’ as we prepare them for college, career and citizenship. The board recognizes the fiscal burden of the initiative and will endeavor to deliver the highest level of services for the lowest cost possible with the goal of extending as much benefit to every student in the district as possible.”

With the approval of the second question, taxes will increase 3.797, or 1.77%, for school taxes. Manley said to find out the tax impact, he said take the assessment and divide by 100 then multiply by 0.066. For example, his home is assessed at $225,000 and his tax impact will be $148.50 per year. His taxes amounted to $13,414 this year.

For the average assessed home at $206,806, the tax impact will be $136.

In May, the district implemented Effective School Solutions (ESS) programming at Metuchen High School for a select group of students.

ESS, which serves 83 schools in 45 school districts in the Northeast, provides innovative clinical programs for districts seeking to reduce costs while increasing the quality of their in-district education for students with emotional and behavioral problems, according to its website.

In the 2018-19 school year, Tania Herzog, director of special services for the Metuchen School District, said counselors and child study teams in the district provided mental health referrals to families of more than 50 students district-wide.

Some 14 students were placed on home instruction due to psychiatric hospitalizations or participated in short-term therapeutic day programs for crisis situations; 22% of referrals for special education included emotional concerns in the reason for referral, 10 of the referrals came from the secondary level; and seven students were placed out of district in the past two years for therapeutic services, Herzog said.

With the additional funding, school officials said they will be able to assess different outside services and opportunities and see what is best for the needs of the district.

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