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School continues to wrestle with issues around health center

While the Archuleta School District Board of Education could not make any official decisions at the retreat it held last week, it continued to discuss the issue of opening a school-based health center (SBHC) on the middle school campus with an eye towards discussing and possibly approving the business plan for the project at its Aug. 12 meeting.

Will Neder facilitated the retreat for the BOE last Monday and Tuesday at board president Greg Schick’s private residence. He began the conversation Tuesday morning by saying, “I have been asked to help facilitate this discussion and give it structure. I have done no research on the school-based health center. I have no points of view about it. I don’t advocate for a particular position and I have been completely apart from the process. That’s intentional because I worked for the hospital before and there’s some conflict of interest.”

Neder then explained the timeline of what needs to happen in the near future.

“The first big date we have is October fifteenth,” Neder said. “Why? Because there’s $400,000 on the line. If we don’t meet that date or something goes wrong, we lose that $400,000, but that doesn’t mean ‘no’ to a school-based health center, philosophically.”

The Colorado Health Foundation has set Oct. 15 as the deadline for submitting its grant applications, but Neder also admitted there is no guarantee the district will be successful with its application, if it decides to proceed with submitting one.

He then outlined what needs to take place to reach the Oct. 15 deadline. The board will be asked to approve the first reading of the business plan on Aug. 12 and the second reading on Sept. 9.

“Ideally,” Neder argued, “that would be the date by which the board would say, ‘Yes, proceed with what we have,’ or, ‘No, don’t proceed.’ Mostly because that’s the hospital’s drop-dead date. This board will hand it to a peer board, which I have worked with. They are smart, good people. You want to take care of them and get them good material.”

The hospital board has its meetings on Aug. 19 and Sept. 23. The hospital board must have the business plan approved by then or they will be unable to meet the Oct. 15 deadline for submitting the grant application. Once the application is submitted, it will take two or three months to receive a response.

“What’s going to happen,” Neder explained, “is there’s going to be all this fury and this untangling of knots and deciding policy, and then if that application comes together and it gets sent off, we’re going to get nothing but tumbleweeds and crickets for a few months, and then they’re going to respond with either a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ I don’t believe there are conditional responses.”

Neder then dove into the costs associated with the project.

The $400,000 would be enough to get the SBHC up and running and operational for three years. In addition, there would be a one-time cost of $150,000 to relocate the school district’s current administration office, where the SBHC is proposed to go, and the ongoing expense of utilities and maintenance for that building.

When Neder suggested the district had already set aside $75,000 in its 2015 budget for moving the administration offices to another facility, board member Bruce Dryburgh said, “Wrong.”

While an additional $75,000 had been added to next year’s budget, Dryburgh had specified at the time it was not earmarked for the SBHC; it could be used for any capital improvement project the board deemed necessary.

When clarifying what he meant by a “go/no-go” date, Neder explained that even if the district was awarded the grant and accepted the money, it was still not obligated to move ahead with the SBHC. The money could be returned at any time and it was only once the district began spending the money that it would be obligated to allow the SBHC.

Neder then asked each board member to explain if there were any aspects of the proposal that would be non-negotiable, anything that would force them to say, “No, I can’t agree to this.”

Board President Greg Schick said he would not accept the SBHC if it offered reproductive health services, at least not for the first year. After the first year of operation, he said he would be willing to listen to the arguments for both sides concerning reproductive health services. He also said that if the operational grant does not come through, the project would be dead.

Superintendent Linda Reed agreed that the biggest concern she has heard from the community is the fear that the SBHC will provide the abortion, or “morning-after,” pill, which was never the intention of the project and would be a deal-breaker.

While board members Brooks Lindner and Joanne Irons both responded there were no deal-breakers in the proposal for them, Dryburgh said he had three non-negotiable items.

“The first one is, even if you get the grant, money I don’t know where it comes from, we would have to find a new source of money. I don’t want to layoff more teachers to pay for school-based health.

“Number two is time required from senior staff. The part that primarily concerns me is the mandatory attendance of the three principals and assistant principals at monthly meetings.”

Dryburgh referred to the strategic planning discussion the board had conducted the previous day and said, “We said yesterday that these folks had too much on their plates and we were going to rigorously take things off their plate, and now what we’re doing is putting more back on their plate.”

While his primary concern was with taking the school administrators away from their normal duties, which should be focused on the education of students, he was also concerned about the SBHC becoming a distraction for Reed and Finance Director Janell Wood.

“The third one is, I don’t want anything that is going to split the community. My personal beliefs on reproductive health have no meaning here; I’m not going to argue that one way or the other, but we cannot afford to divide the community on that reproductive issue. It would have devastating impact. As long as our documents keep saying, ‘Hey guys, we promise we won’t do this for a year, but don’t ask me about a year and a day,’ they all say, ‘OK, we know exactly when you’re going to add that.’”

Dryburgh admitted he was one of the newest members on the board and didn’t understand all the background and the work that has gone into the project so far. He also conceded that there is a serious need for health care amongst a significant portion of ASD’s student population, but he wanted to know why there were no other options.

Reed then went into a detailed history of the project — who got the ball rolling and why, including where opposition to the idea has come from and how the district has responded to it.

Since the school board retreat lasted for two full days, and the SBHC was one out of only three items on the agenda, the discussion went into great detail about liability issues, which board would be responsible for what aspects of the project, and various hidden costs such as transportation or obtaining permission slips from parents. However, the main argument can best be summed up by this exchange between Dryburgh and Schick.

“Unless we have some magical way of getting the community to fully believe that we are never going to raise the issue of sexual reproduction or the morning-after pills,” Dryburgh summarized, “our biggest problem with this is what it’s going to do to the community and what it’s going to do to enrollment. We have some real legal limitations as to just what we can do. I can say that for the rest of my life I will never support doing this stuff, but I’m going to be term-limited some day.”

“We’ve agreed amongst us,” Schick responded, “and in our sessions with the community, and in our board meeting we said that we will not do that for a year, but you look at this survey.”

Schick quoted from the document in front of him, where 61 percent of parents, 62 percent of high school students and 58 percent of the faculty and staff, “Agree or strongly agree these services are needed.”

“Those are relatively strong numbers,” Schick continued, “and yet we’ve got a segment in the community that says, ‘Absolutely not. We don’t want that.’ So just from —”

Dryburgh interrupted to say, “that’s a problem.”

“But the people I have heard from that don’t want this,” Schick concluded,  “a big majority of them are not parents. They are community members who have no kids or grandkids in the school, and yet they’re trying to tell us that it’s not needed when the parents and the students themselves — a significant majority — want it.”

“I think that’s a very good point you raise,” Dryburgh conceded, “and I don’t disagree with it … I don’t see a lot of flexibility with these folks. If this decision was mine and it didn’t impact anybody else, I would come up with the better argument for why we should offer it. I don’t want pregnant kids running around the halls of the high school.”

Dryburgh reiterated that it is only the split in the community this issue will cause that caused him concern.

This story was posted on August 7, 2014.