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Parents tell Syracuse schools how to spend $100 million: Mental health is tops on their list
By Marnie Eisenstadt | email@example.com
Syracuse, N.Y. — Taking care of kids’ mental health should be a top priority for the Syracuse schools when they decide how to spend more than $100 million in federal stimulus money.
In a survey to parents, community members and teachers, 43 percent said addressing mental health problems was extremely important.
This was the top ranking response in the survey that asked what people thought of the district’s priorities for the federal money. The money has to be used over the next three years.
In the survey, the district of 20,000 students identified five top priorities for spending the money:
People were asked to rate the importance of the different priorities; 1,721 people completed the survey. Of those, 40 percent were parents and 40 percent were teachers and staff. The rest were community members or other stakeholders.
Improving air quality was the next highest priority for survey respondents.
The surveys also offered a spot for comments. “The number one word was air conditioning,” said Suzanne Slack, the district chief financial officer, during a presentation to the school board about the survey.
People also suggested that the district use some of the money to take kids on field trips like kayaking, camping and skiing.
Slack outlined some specifics that the district hoped to spend the money on. One is a virtual academy option for all high-school students in the district.
There are also plans to replace windows in Meachem, LeMoyne, Salem Hyde and Van Duyn schools, and replace and add air filters throughout the district, Slack said.
The district had also hoped to use the money ramp up its plans to hire more guidance counselors, Slack said. But that met with opposition from Commissioner Patricia Brody. The stimulus money is only temporary, so what happens to those positions when the money is gone, she asked. She also questioned whether hiring more guidance counselors would address the serious mental health problems kids are having.
“I’m not sure what we’re focusing on is going to meet the needs of kids who are having a lot of problems. I have to say, this doesn’t look like the focus is at a place where it needs to be,” Brody said
Slack did not have specific spending estimates for the board. She said that the coming year, the stimulus money will be about 6 percent of the district’s total spending. The 2021-22 budget is $480 million.
The district has three years to spend the federal money. Slack said it will spend the least amount in the first year.
The full plan for spending must be submitted to the state by Aug. 31.