In the wake up on a May discussion about the possibility of hiring a private firm to do part-time drug and alcohol counseling at Riverside-Brookfield High School in 2006-07, the District 208 Board of Education instead voted 5-1 on June 27 to create a full-time staff position to handle drug and alcohol counseling the RB.

Laura Hruska cast the only no vote on hiring a certified drug and alcohol counselor; board member Marty Crowley was not at the meeting. The new position will be added to the Student Services Department. A certified drug and alcohol counselor (CDAC) is someone who has taken coursework specifically dealing with drug and alcohol addiction.

In May the District 208 board set as one of its goals helping students better deal with drug and alcohol issues. The board and administration decided to aggressively attack the problem head on.

RB Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann and Student Services Chair Linda Lavery argued strenuously that RB would be better served by having a certified drug and alcohol counselor on staff rather than relying on the services of an outside agency and their appeal carried the day to a board that initially appeared skeptical when the subject was first brought to their attention three weeks ago.

“We need additional help to attack this problem,” said Baldermann. “We’re going into a pretty significant battle, and we want to be well armed. … When you hire an outside consultant they may do a fine job, but you don’t have the same kind of commitment that you have from your own staff.”

In May, the director of addiction services for the LaGrange Park-based Pillars Community Center said that a contract between RB and her organization was a “done deal.” Pillars would have provided someone at RB three days a week for 18 hours a week. With a full-time staff person, RB will have a CDAC available every school day and someone available to work evenings, Baldermann said.

The cost of the full time staff position will be at least $45,564, the starting salary for certified staff with a bachelor’s degree according to RB’s salary schedule. The cost of the hire could rise to $48,482 or if the school hires someone with a master’s degree with no previous school experience.

The cost of hiring Pillars would have been around $20,000, Baldermann said.

Baldermann said the cost of the position is not budgeted for in the 2006-07 preliminary budget that was unveiled last week, but said that he was confident that he could find savings in other personnel costs to fund the new position.

Lavery said that it has always been a goal of hers to add a CDAC to her staff.

“This has been a goal of mine since I came to RB,” said Lavery. “We’re about the whole person. We’re about attacking anything that is going to keeps students from being their best.”

Student Services staff told the board that they deal with problems involving drug and alcohol use on a regular basis.

“There have been many weeks this year when we have been overwhelmed by this issue,” said RB social worker Mari Mortensen at the June 13 school board meeting, where the idea of a full-time staffer was presented. “It’s very labor-intensive work.”

The new hire will be expected to conduct screenings and assessment of students, provide individual and group counseling, provide consultation and case management services, provide staff training, develop and organize community workshops and forums on drug and alcohol awareness among other duties, according to a memo to the school board that accompanied the proposal.

Hruska, who cast the lone “no” vote on the board, said she felt the case had not been adequately made to hire a full-time staff person. She said the district should first explore grant funding and perhaps start with a pilot program. She said the proposal lacked a full needs assessment and any quantifiable measurement of success.

Hruska also questioned why a Student Services staff of six full-time counselors, a department chair and two social workers was not adequate for a school with a projected enrollment of 1,484 students in 2006-07. Hruska said that she felt the administration had not adequately made its case.

“I’m not saying never,” said Hruska. “At this point I think this is an incomplete proposal.”

Some other board members who seemed skeptical when the idea was first presented to them three weeks ago decided to support it, especially after the board motion was amended to establish the position on a one-year trial basis.

“I’m willing to make a commitment for one year,” said board member Karen Bensfield who earlier in the meeting had pointed out the lack of a needs assessment.

Board member Sue Kleinmeyer urged the administration to consider hiring someone who can also help out in other roles in the Student Services Department.

In May, school officials and police conducted a dog-sniffing search of the school that resulted in one arrest. In 2006 Riverside police have made nine local ordinance violation arrests and two felony arrests at the school for drug and alcohol crimes.

School board president Larry Herbst said that the main factor in his vote was the trust he has in Lavery and Baldermann.

“We take our goals very seriously,” said Herbst. “We think outside the box. I really applaud Jack and Linda and the student services department on this. We’re going to give it a try.”