Henry's school social workers on budget hit list

The school social worker position is one of the latest to take a hit from budget restructuring in the Henry County School System.

Connie Rutherford, the school system's community development coordinator, said the number of social workers serving Henry County's 50 public schools will be reduced next school year from 17 to nine.

Rutherford said the reduction is a part of the effort to trim the school district's budget, which is expected to see declines in state and local revenues next year.

The reduction in social workers –– as with cutbacks among other certified employees –– will likely increase the workload for those who remain, according to School Social Worker Diane Beal.

"Due to the reduction in force, school social workers will serve twice as many students and families next year, or five-to-seven schools," said Beal.

Beal noted that what has necessitated a reduction in force, also may contribute to an increased workload for the remaining social workers. "School social workers work with students and families on those non-academic issues, which impede a student's ability to be successful in school," Beal said. "They include child abuse, mental health problems, truancy, and economic issues. During an economic downturn, the needs of students and families increase. The rates of child abuse, domestic violence, and mental and physical health concerns, go up," Beal said. "So, the needs of our families will be greater, but our ability to respond to those needs will be more difficult."

Beal serves three schools in the Union Grove school cluster in McDonough — one high school, and two elementary schools, with a combined enrollment of approximately 2,800 students. She expects her case load will double next year. "It will be hard to provide some of the services that I have been providing, such as individual, and group counseling," she said. "I will work hard to respond to the needs of all the students and schools that I serve next year, but the nature of my work will change. My focus will be crisis intervention, case management, consultation with administrators and counselors, and attendance-related issues."

Several other positions are being eliminated or considered for elimination by school officials.

Instructional lead teacher positions, for example, were eliminated, according to Human Resource Services Assistant Superintendent Valerie Suessmith. Suessmith said those teachers remain employed, but will have to move into other vacancies in the school system.

"Most of the full-time employees may be coming back in a different capacity, doing something they may not have been doing before," said Erik Charles, a Henry County Board of Education member. "With the attrition of people retiring, we've been able to place those people in other positions that are critical to the success of our kids in Henry County."

Suessmith added that student support specialist positions were restructured into a cluster model, similar to what happened with social worker positions. Some specialist positions were eliminated, and others in the positions were reassigned.

High school graduation paraprofessionals learned earlier this year that their positions would be eliminated, and they would be assigned to other positions at their respective schools.

The same was the case for positions in other programs within the school system, according to Suessmith. The programs include the system's delivery of technology services program, its career technical instruction program, its in-school suspension program, its elementary school art and music programs, and its media center programs.

Suessmith said the system's central office will experience restructuring as well. Affected employees will be absorbed into other vacancies.