LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In a move that partially addresses at least one demand of the striking teachers' union, the county Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved up to $10 million for the Los Angeles Unified School District to pay for mental health services for students and staff.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who recommended the funding, said $10 million would be enough to fund a school nurse on every LAUSD elementary school campus. District Superintendent Austin Beutner announced the planned county funds last week as part of the district's most recent contract offer to United Teachers Los Angeles.
Ridley-Thomas said the board's approval of the funding represented a change in thinking about the county's relationship with LAUSD. Earlier boards held “a narrow perspective that essentially said LAUSD's business is LAUSD's business,” but that view is evolving, Ridley-Thomas said.
He was explicit about the possibility that the scale of the investment could impact negotiations between the union and striking teachers.
“Time is of the essence. ... This is a catalytic moment,” he said.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger also referenced a “new era,” saying the county “may have to reinvent the wheel in terms of how we provide comprehensive services for our students” given the financial constraints faced by schools.
The need for mental health services at schools “is a crisis,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion. She stressed that the county and LAUSD, as well as the dozens of other schools districts countywide, share goals and a focus on the most under-served students.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said the funding was not a direct response to the teachers' strike but represented ongoing planning by the departments of public and mental health.
“It's not just about that ... it's not going to stop when the strike's over,” Kuehl said.
Increasing the number of school nurses -- along with campus librarians and counselors -- is a key demand of the striking teachers' union.
Ridley-Thomas, Kuehl and the directors of the departments of public and mental health all detailed work under way to help support students' medical and mental health needs.
For example, the county previously committed to spending $10 million per year for three years to establish 50 student well-being centers, 30 of which would be located on LAUSD campuses, according to Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer.
“It's hard for children who are not well physically and emotionally to do their best in school,” Ferrer said, saying the centers were expected to open in the fall.
As for the new funding, Ridley-Thomas said the timing of the motion was important and noted that the union and its members have been very vocal about the need for more support services for students, something the district also supports.
“I think context matters,” Ridley-Thomas told reporters after the vote. “To the extent that this helps getting them closer to being on the same page, I see no reason why we shouldn't be of assistance ... It's one piece in a somewhat intricate puzzle. We're doing what we can do to be helpful.”
In addition to the $10 million in new funding for LAUSD, the board also voted to seek additional sources of funding to hire school nurses and other health professionals for the district.
“Our capacity is obviously not limitless, but in fact it is significantly substantial to do this,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Based on an amendment by Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the board also directed staffers to evaluate the needs of other school districts.