Edmonds School Board hears proposal for on-site student health center, reviews 2021-22 budget

Washington School-Based Health Alliance Executive Director Sandy Lennon (bottom right) briefs the Edmonds School Board on school-based health centers on July 12.

The Edmonds School District Board of Directors Tuesday night discussed the idea of creating a health center for the district’s most at-risk students so they can access services right at school.

School-based health centers are located in or adjacent to a school and offer integrated medical, behavioral health, and other health care services like dental care. During the July 13 business meeting, the board was briefed by Sandy Lennon, executive director of the Washington School-Based Health Alliance, about how students can benefit from the center.

“The common thread is school-based health centers provide accessible, youth-centered services where students already spend most of their time — which is at school,” she said.

Founded in 2010, Washington School-Based Health Alliance is a nonprofit that aims to advance and advocate for school-based health care to ensure the health and academic success of children across the state. It also works with the National School-Based Health Alliance and a network of 30 other state-level organizations.

The center would be sponsored by a community clinic or health care system, hospital or public health department that would staff and manage the center. Services provided are typically defined by community need but may include primary medical, behavioral health, dental care, health education, and substance abuse counseling. 

If approved, the center would be the first in Snohomish County. In Washington, there are 60 sites sponsored by more than 20 health care organizations in 26 school districts, including the Seattle School District, and together serve more than 53,000 students. When schools closed last March to in-person learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, services were offered remotely.

Primary care is provided by a physician assistant or nurse practitioner, licensed mental health providers and a clinic coordinator. Lennon said the coordinator serves as the face of the center for the school community. Staffing for other services — like dental or substance abuse counselors — are hired as needed.

According to Lennon, school-based health centers have been particularly effective at reaching children and youth who may not be accessing health care elsewhere for any number of reasons. Based on collected data, Lennon said that students attending the centers have improved health, attendance, grades and higher graduation rates. 

“The key is that health care is provided where the kids are, reducing barriers to health care and health, and reducing barriers to learning so students can be more successful in school,” she said.

According to Lennon, there has been a rise in the need for student behavioral health resources and students are 10 to 20 times more likely to make mental health/substance abuse visits if a center is available.

While establishing a center, Lennon said health care providers spend time coordinating with school nurses, teachers, administrators and families to serve students. She said the centers are not meant to replace school nurses, but work with them.

“Collaboration with the school nurse and other staff is critical,” Lennon said. “School-based health centers do not take the place of school health services but complement (them) by providing services outside the scope of the school nurse.”

The centers would only be open during school hours and would not be intended to be students’ primary medical providers. However, Lennon said they would provide access to care and will help connect students to primary care providers if needed.

Funding for the centers can come from a variety of sources. Lennon said four centers were funded through the state capital budget. About 70% are sponsored by community health centers that provide other safety net services and can bill Medicaid at an enhanced rate. Lennon also said some districts have used local levies, which have been key to funding 34 centers. 

“School-based health centers as one piece of the puzzle can help address these needs by providing integrated, accessible health care onsite at school, which can be critical particularly for those with barriers,” she said.

Director Gary Noble said he was in support of establishing a center in the district and lamented that they hadn’t created one sooner, since King County had several.

“Maybe we can be the first to start pushing it in our county,” he said.

In other business, the board held a public hearing and a first reading for the proposed budget for the 2021-22 school year. Due to several currently unknown variables, Finance Director Lydia Sellie said some of the figures shown in the presentation are subject to change.

Per the presentation, the district has $371,525,000 in the general fund, which Sellie said does not account for the recent bargaining agreement struck between the district and the Edmonds Education Association.

Enrollment was also impacted when the district switched to remote learning last spring and the district saw a decrease of more than 600 students. However, Sellie said that the state has allowed districts to base their annual budgets on enrollment numbers from the 2019-20 school year. 

“If there’s any slight adjustments, they will be made in the fall with a rollback process,” Sellie said.

Under the district’s Associated Student Body Fund, there is $3,137,609, including unspent funds from students who did not have senior events like prom. The Debt Services Fund contains $24,200,000. The district’s Capital Projects Fund has $88 million and projects scheduled for 2020 are funded, including phase two construction at Spruce Elementary School.

Under the Transportation Fund, the district has budgeted $2.2 million, which includes the purchase of five new buses. Sellie said additional buses may be purchased as needed.

Also during the meeting, the board received an update on summer learning programs, which began July 6. Some students in grades K-8 can participate through in-person learning, while an online option will be available for all.

Programs for K-8 students will run until Aug. 5 from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. High school programs will run until Aug. 12 and include a morning session from 8-11 a.m. and an afternoon session from noon-3 p.m., with the option for students to stay through both sessions.

The board adjourned the meeting and will not hold another business meeting until Aug 10.

–By Cody Sexton

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