Budget cuts in Claremont could put many students at risk

Stevens High School - Claremont, New Hampshire

Crisis Counselor, Ashley Miller, serves as a lifeline for students at Stevens High School in Claremont, NH. She supports and educates those experiencing anxiety, depression, and challenges that stem from abuse and neglect.

Here, one in five students have seen domestic violence in their own homes and almost 40% live with someone who has a drug or alcohol problem. Due to budget cuts, Claremont’s school board has voted to eliminate her position, according to NHPR:

“[Ashley] Miller’s in her fourth year working at Stevens as what’s known as a ‘crisis counselor.’

Her title is a bit of a misnomer; her role isn’t limited to managing immediate student crises, but is instead a much broader mental health counseling position.

In fact, her first year, she saw more than a third of the student body, she said. At that point, she started making a list of the different needs she was seeing.

That list included anger management, anxiety, depression, abuse, neglect, relationship challenges, and more.

“Often, I think the perception is that – oh, these kids are fine,” she said. “And often that’s not the case. They just don’t know who to talk to about it…”

City residents still have to approve the cuts later this year, but the school board has already voted, queuing up the elimination of several positions at the high school. Miller’s job is one of those on the line…

In a 2015 survey, one in five Stevens High students reported witnessing domestic violence at home. Almost 40 percent said they live with someone with an alcohol or drug problem.

“We have students who will shake uncontrollably. They have eating disorders, they’re not sleeping at night,” Stevens Principal Pat Barry said. “They’re self-medicating.”

Schools are feeling the burden of providing social services for these students.

“Like it or not, agree with it or not, it is the role of public schools today,” she said. “And when people say the city, the town, the state should be taking on these responsibilities – great, wonderful, but it’s not happening.”

Still, it’s one thing to want to support students with more than just academics, but it’s another thing to pay for it, especially in an area with high need. Another local statistic many Claremont residents know well has to do with taxes. The city has the highest property tax rate in the state, a rate some say has become unaffordable.

With no relief in sight in terms of more state money, some school board members say it’s time to take responsibility locally and keep their bills in check. The district needs to be realistic about what the schools can really be expected to do, said Vice Chair Chris Irish.

“I don’t believe we’re educating kids anymore. I believe we’re raising them. And I don’t think that was the intent of school districts,” he said. “When did it become the school’s responsibility to solve all of society’s ills?”

Source: Budget Cuts Could Sever a Lifeline for High School Students in Claremont | NHPR