School social worker appeals cut

Oconto Falls district cut 2 FTEs affecting 4 employees
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An Oconto Falls School District social worker whose contract was not renewed for next year is appealing to the school board to reconsider.

The district’s superintendent says eliminating the part-time position was the best way to reduce overhead with the least negative impact.

The board voted to reduce two full-time equivalent positions, affecting four employees, at its April 9 meeting.

Sharon Stodola-Eslien was a longtime social worker with the Green Bay Area School District who was approached in 2014 by then-Superintendent Dave Polashek. She has since served the Oconto Falls district two workdays a week, generally a full day on Tuesdays and half-days on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“You would think, being a small district, many of the social, emotional, family and mental health issues wouldn’t exist or would be much less debilitating here than in an urban district,” Stodola-Eslien said. “Not the case. Wishful thinking.”

Even in a small town, issues like abuse and neglect, drugs, anxiety and depression, sex and pregnancy, and bullying are cause for concern, she said.

During the 2017-18 school year, she estimated she has worked with 23 middle school students and 59 high school students — including young people enrolled in the FALS and New Path alternative programs. The work involves weekly small-group settings, individual counseling and/or crisis intervention.

The school social worker position pays $22,134 this school year. As a part-time job, it does not come with other benefits.

“I don’t need the job, but the students and their families need someone in their corner,” Stodola-Eslien said. “It’s all about the kids.”

She plans to take her case to the school board in a closed session Monday, urging them to reverse the decision to eliminate the position. At least a dozen students have written letters of support, citing the need for her services.

“I do not think I would be here without her,” more than one student said, talking about mental health and the importance of having someone to talk to about depression and other issues that kids in middle and high school face.

The school district has a team of school psychologists and guidance counselors.

“We continue to experience budgetary constrictions and pressure to do as much, if not more, with fewer resources,” Superintendent Dean Hess said Tuesday. “This was not a performance-related decision; we are cutting due to fiscal realities that are out of our control.”

The board also moved to eliminate one social studies position and reduce a high school French teacher to 40 percent based on the declining number of students signing up to take the courses. A tech integration position was also reduced by 20 percent.

“We were in a position where we needed to reduce overhead with the least negative impact,” Hess said. “We want to provide the best education possible with the resources we have.”

Stodola-Eslien said some have questioned why the district is making cuts after a successful April 2017 referendum that school officials said was needed to maintain educational services.

Hess acknowledged the criticism but said the budget crisis would have been much deeper had the vote gone the other way.

“In the informational meetings, I tried to be as straightforward as possible. I said if we continue to experience a mild decline in open enrollment, we would still need to make budget adjustments,” he said. “The referendum saved us from having to make catastrophic decisions that would extremely affect our educational offerings.”