RRPS board reviews mental-health needs, coming costs

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education heard about what it will take to meet behavioral health needs during nearly three hours, including an hour-long workshop, Monday evening.

Rio Rancho Public Schools main office.
(File photo/ Rio Rancho Observer)

The board heard about a proposed plan to support behavioral and social-emotional needs via a three-tier setting.

Tier 1 is monitoring of behavioral and social-emotional needs and estimated to be sufficient for 85-90 percent of district students. Tier 2, after “universal screening,” involves at-risk students, estimated to be 7-10 percent of all students, “treated” with intensified classroom and small-group intervention.

At the top of this pyramid, Tier 3, are high-risk students, with an estimated 3-5 percent of students receiving individual interventions.

But where would individual and small-group interventions take place? These district needs are being met at Rio Rancho Middle School, in the wing set aside for the Secondary Learning Center, which houses the credit-recovery and night-school students, as well as the Edgenuity center.

Needed supports, the board learned, for each tier include:

• Additional counselors at every elementary school and systematic training in various social skills training for all staff members at Tier 1;

• Clinical counselors and a social worker, plus an off-site therapeutic environments secondary support center, with four elementary-support classrooms (spread across the district and near the clinical counselor) for Tier 2; and

• In Tier 3, for students with disabilities, additional cluster programs, additional social workers, plus more behavioral specialists and psychologists.

Programs are already in place so students’ learning isn’t impacted when they’re removed from the classroom.

ReFrame is a temporary placement for students with excessive discipline referrals who work with a school counselor and appropriate support staff, providing a safe alternative placement where learning can continue, although ReFrame is only offered in the evening.

AES serves secondary students who have been suspended, but aren’t violent offenders; they are referred by RRPS administrators or Sandoval County juvenile probation authorities, after approval by RRPS’s Student Services Department. They have access to a licensed teacher and curriculum that allows them to return to their classroom when their suspensions are served.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland cautioned that she suspects in the near future, off-site suspensions will no longer be an alternative.

Ultimately, the district envisions a separate building, either new or renovated, for the rehabilitative programs, at an estimated cost of $2.25 million. Estimated costs for implementation were listed at $153,750 for the remainder of 2019-20, plus $2.9 million, which includes the designated building for the programs and another $633,074 for the total student-support budget, in 2021-22.

“We have no dollars,” board member Ramon Montaño lamented. “You can only stretch a dollar so far … I think it’s an important need; I get this is a high priority.”

But he said he was concerned about the long-term survival of such a well-intentioned but expensive program.

“We need these services and supports at all levels,” urged Carl Leppelman, chief academic officer. “Is it costly? Yes. We can’t afford not to do this.”

Cleveland said returning such students to the classrooms, rather than letting them cause problems in the community, also means generating revenue in the state funding formula.

In other business, Melanie Archibeque, executive director of facilities, laid out (in order) the prioritized list of capital outlay requests for the 2020 Legislature:

• Cyber security, district-wide: $441,000.

• Generator for the district offices: $300,000.

• Fire-alarm upgrades for 16 schools: $4 million.

• PA system for 14 schools: $420,000.

• Nurses’ office expansions for Colinas del Norte Elementary, plus Eagle Ridge and Mountain View middle schools: $125,000.

• LED lighting conversions for Cleveland and Rio Rancho high schools’ student parking lots: $300,000.

• Stucco at Vista Grande Elementary: $162,000.

• Landscaping at Eagle Ridge Middle School: Cost to be determined.

• Landscaping at RRHS and its Performing Arts Center: $100,000.

• Landscaping at Rio Rancho Middle School: Cost TBD.

• Additional parking at Cielo Azul Elementary: $250,000.

• Other projects: RRHS Fine Arts addition, district-wide Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades and district-wide erosion mitigation: Costs TBD.

Naturally, the district’s not sure how many requests will be granted, but as Montaño noted, “Security’s still going to be at the top of everyone’s agenda.”

“Historically, (legislators) are not very excited about parking lots,” Cleveland said, adding, “They would like the rationale in writing.”

There was concern about the fire-alarm item. The alarms are working, but new law mandates “voice instructions” to accompany alarms when they go off.

In other matters, the board approved the revised hazing policy (Policy 101), and briefly took a look at a first draft for student fees (Policy 622) and decided it’d be better to review it before an official first reading in December.

In the next few months, board members will review the entire series of RRPS policies, updating and tweaking where necessary. Because Monday’s meeting ran long, the board didn’t have sufficient time to look over the 100 and 200 series; the 300 and 400 series are expected to be on the next agenda.

The board’s next meeting will be on Monday, Dec. 9, at 5:30 p.m.

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