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Willard schools getting $1.4 million for 'health and wellness funds'

Zoe Greszler • Aug 14, 2019 at 1:00 PM

WILLARD — If there’s one thing Willard has plenty of, it’s support for the local schools.

During the Monday school board meeting, Willard City Schools Superintendent Jeff Ritz and board member Richard Willoughby described how the latest support would be coming from some positive legislation. 

House Bill 166 recently was signed and approved, giving districts within certain poverty lines funds to go toward several areas labeled as helping students improve their physical, mental and psychological health and more. Because the percent of students who fall below the federal poverty line, it’s suggested that Willard schools will receive about $493,000 this coming school year and an more than $900,000 next school year,” Willoughby said.

“There were about $675 million in health and wellness funds,” Ritz said. “It’s suggested Willard will receive that $1.4 million over the next two years. It’s suggested, but it’s not guaranteed yet, but it’s going to be close to that.”

There’s a list of things the money can be used for — covering a very wide spectrum in healthcare. The approved list includes mental health services, services for homeless youths, community liaisons, physical healthcare services, mentoring programs, community partnerships, professional development regarding the provision of trauma-informed healthcare or on cultural competence and for students services.

In some ways the grant allows the board to dictate how best to use the funds, by allowing supplanting. 

“Title is grant-funded program,” Ritz said. “If Jenny is a Title Teacher, I can’t say ‘Jenny’s now a second-grade teacher, but I’m going to use these funds to pay her.’ That’s supplanting. This (health and wellness fund) allows you to supplant. ... Never seen something allow to supplant.”

The funds aren’t guaranteed to continue being issued to the district after the two years. Willard though already has a plan in place with how to use some of the money. One thing the district plans to implant is an anti-bullying program and rearrange the counselors’ current responsibilities so the three counselors currently at the school don’t become “bogged down” with “other things” outside of counseling students, and more.

“We’re also going to do more with Pioneer to get more career counseling,” Ritz said, referring to the Shelby career and technology center. “We have a lot we’re looking at. And we’re asking people and different groups what they’d like to see.

The superintendent said House Bill 166 will present a unique, but welcome challenge.

“I think for us it’ll be a challenge for us to spend that amount of money over a period of time, but it’s a challenge I’d like to face,” Ritz said.

He said the district plans to have an affirmative plan of action on what to do with the funds at the next board meeting. The district will be required to file reports describing the initiatives on how the funds were spent at the end of the school and fiscal year. 

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