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SLHS to nix its counselor contract

North Star’s substance-abuse director working to keep school drug counselors employed

January 28, 2009
By EMILY HUNKLER, Enterprise Staff Writer

SARANAC LAKE - North Star Chemical Dependency Services is looking for ways to maintain its presence in the schools after being told that the Saranac Lake Central School District would not renew contracts with the three substance-abuse educators now employed there.

"We are aggressively pursuing every potential grant," said Beth Lawyer, North Star's associate director. "We continue to work with the superintendent to explore every avenue to maintain a program at some level."

Superintendent Gerald Goldman said the proposed program cuts will remain strong, although the school district is also looking at ways to maintain drug education for the students.

These cuts, along with laying off teachers, a counselor, a driver-education instructor and a bus driver, are in response to state aid cutbacks of nearly $1 million for the Saranac Lake district, the largest school cuts in the county. It is also the only school in its BOCES district to cut the substance-abuse educators' positions, Lawyer said.

According to Goldman, cutting the substance-abuse positions will save the school district $73,000. The district currently employs three educators: One serves the elementary schools, one the middle school and one the high school. They are all full-time positions. The school district pays around $23,300 of each salary; the remainder of their salaries, as well as benefits, are paid by different funding sources through North Star Dependency Services.

"Administratively, we've talked about ways we can cover this programming by using teachers, counselors and other professionals in the building," Goldman said.

Along with educating students on the dangers of substance abuse, these counselors also provide drug screenings, referrals for treatment and counseling for students struggling with peer pressure, family addiction and possible mental health issues. They also advise the local youth chapters of Students Against Destructive Decisions.Despite a grim outlook for the program's livelihood in Saranac Lake schools, Lawyer said she remains optimistic.

"There is a very strong likelihood that we'll keep it going at some level," Lawyer said. "But the full program, no, I don't think so. Not without a very large federal grant."

Of the three educators who, as of now, stand to lose their jobs, Lawyer said they are a big motivation for her to find funding.

"They're young folks with kids, and they know I am very aggressively and diligently working and figuring out what I am going to do to keep them employed," she said. "These are important positions to the district, and we're going to see what we can do to keep at least something together."

Lawyer said she has spent much of her time since the cutbacks were announced searching for possible federal, state and local grants, although none have materialized yet.


Contact Emily Hunkler at 891-2600 ext. 24 or



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