By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
California's budget crisis has the Tuolumne County supervisors and the new county superintendent of schools sparring over local funding cuts.
At their meeting Tuesday, supervisors voted unanimously to discontinue funding for students who require mental health services from after-school and outpatient counseling to residential care.
Eight or nine of the 49 students, all under age 18, using outpatient mental health services are placed in other states. These eight or nine kids are the program's biggest expense, because the county must pay for their transportation to the facilities and transportation for visiting parents.
The program's total cost to the county last year was $176,962.
But Gov. Gray Davis deleted the program's funding from the state budget, and without assurance that the funds would be recouped from the state in the future, supervisors removed the program from their own budget.
Funding for student mental health will now fall to the county school system which is also financially strained.
Before the vote, Joe Silva, the new county superintendent of schools, told supervisors that if they cut the funding, they would violate the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
"This is not a case where the law is ambiguous," Silva said. "It's specific."
Silva asked that the board continue the funding or at least table the issue until an alternative could be worked out.
"Since this decision may well result in litigation against the county ... we are asking for an opportunity to meet and collaborate with the county prior to the board making a decision," Silva wrote in a report to the supervisors.
Silva argued that if supervisors voted to stop funding student mental health, they would be violating an established law, which would "result in lawsuits against the county, individual board members, the county CAO and its counsel."
County Counsel Gregory Oliver told the board that if it stopped funding the program, lawsuits could come from the county office of education, school districts or even parents whose children no longer receive services.