Jefferson County Public Schools is slated to move forward with a plan to add mental health support staff as it weighs large spending cuts to its central office.
Kentucky’s largest district will ask its school board to approve a job description for mental health practitioners Tuesday night, according to the meeting agenda.
If it passes, JCPS plans to hire one practitioner for each middle and high school, plus one for each accelerated improvement elementary school. Remaining elementary schools would share practitioners, with one counselor for every two schools.
JCPS will be able to begin hiring for the next school year once the school board approves the role, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio told reporters at a state board of education meeting Wednesday.
Pollio was not sure how much the additions would cost the district. He told state board members to expect “aggressive cuts” to administrative spending, with the money being redirected to classrooms, in a yet-to-be-seen budget.
In what he called a conservative estimate, Pollio told the state board that the district could cut $100 million from central office spending over the next 10 years. He did not give specifics of what could be cut but cited various state laws preventing quick changes to reduce spending.
After the meeting, he told reporters he would support changing state law to provide superintendents more flexibility to cut costs.
“I think there needs to be more flexibility in the ability to move central office administrators to different positions,” Pollio said. “It can definitely be cumbersome right now.”
Later, Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis said there is “not as much flexibility as you would think” to move those in administrative roles into classroom roles.
Changes to administrative tenure statutes would be “helpful,” Lewis said. The tenure rules can tie “superintendents hands behind their backs,” he added.
No legislation has been filed thus far to change those laws.
During Lewis’ comments, a board member, Gary Houchens, tweeted that removing such barriers is a “top priority” for the board.
Last fall, Pollio told state lawmakers that he wanted to make a mental health practitioner available for every school. Student mental health has continued to be a focus in discussions regarding school safety and bullying in the district.
A practitioner needs credentials as a psychologist, social worker, counselor or marriage and family therapist, according to the job description.
Practitioners will help students with mental health needs and crisis support, the description says. They’ll also act as a school lead for trauma-informed care efforts. JCPS has used trauma-informed training and methods to understand the underlying causes of behavior, partially crediting the efforts to drops in referrals and suspensions.
Alongside the mental health position, JCPS will present new job descriptions for an exceptional child education implementation coach and an academic instructional coach.