The Archuleta School District Board of Education gave in to public pressure at Tuesday night’s meeting, deciding to back away from the idea of a school-based health center … for now.
When board member Bruce Dryburgh suggested the public should be given an opportunity to speak before the board voted on the issue, board president Greg Schick reassured him they would, but only after the superintendent and the board made their own comments.
Superintendent Linda Reed then read a prepared statement. “This evening I am approaching you with a recommendation regarding our pursuit of a grant application from the Colorado Health Foundation for a school-based health center.
“First of all, we recognize that there are students in our school district who have unmet health needs, which if untreated, have a profound and negative impact on their ability to learn. Since our primary focus in this school district is ensuring all children can learn at a high level and engage in problem solving to prepare them to be successful when they graduate from our schools, if we ignore these issues, this will continue to be a barrier for our children.
“That being said, though we still think a school-based health center is a good idea, the fact is, despite our best efforts and the dedicated work of many people, there are still important questions we cannot properly address …
“So I’ve done a great deal of thinking, and I have talked to colleagues and community members, I’ve listened, and I’ve heard clearly … until we can come back with something … that engenders the trust of the entire community, I cannot recommend moving forward with this grant application.”
When Schick asked if there were any comments from board members, Dryburgh was the first to speak up. “First of all, I would like to thank the committee that spent so much time studying this issue. We don’t thank our volunteers anywhere near enough.
“I’d like to bring to the attention of the board the lack of adequate health care that’s provided to some of our students. Whether it’s our responsibility or not, it’s a fact that some of our kids do not get the education they need because they don’t get the health care they need.”
However, Dryburgh asserted, he also would not support moving forward with the SBHC grant, mainly for financial reasons.
“I think this is premature,” Dryburgh said. “We need financials, which we did not receive. We need alternatives, which has been discussed at length. We have not received anything to resolve the controversy over reproductive health.
“That being said, if we go out of here and forget about student health, we’re making a mistake.”
“It’s been a mixed bag all along, as far as I’m concerned,” board member Ken Fox said next. “There are a lot of pros as far as the health needs of the students. The questions I had were more financial than anything else — the hidden costs, the associated costs, and that sort of thing.
“I was coming in here ready to listen, but with our superintendent making the recommendation she has, I would support her recommendation. I don’t think it (the SBHC proposal) is dead; I just think we need to go back and continue to do more research. I don’t like the idea of being right up against the time frame.”
Board member Joanne Irons explained that, in order to keep her emotions from interfering with what she had to say, she would read her statement. “To all the students, especially the students with unmet health needs, I feel that we have failed you.”
Irons was the only board member to stand firm in her support of the SBHC proposal.
Schick, also a local veterinarian, was the last person on the board to speak. “As a board member and as a board president, as well as in my practice and in my life, I’ve always tried to find solutions to problems, and it has been very discouraging to me that an issue such as the student-based health center has become so divisive in the community. I think it would be a great way to help our students with their health needs.
“It was brought up several times in comments from our audience that a parent should take care of it, and I agree with that one hundred percent. A parent should be responsible for the health of their children. However, that doesn’t always happen, for a variety of reasons.”
Schick then quoted from a Denver Post article he had read, claiming that, over a lifetime, a person who graduates from high school will contribute between $100,000 and $200,000 more in local, state and federal taxes than someone who does not graduate.
“So I know there were some issues concerning the financial cost of this (the SBHC),” Schick said, “and I am certainly on board with that. I want to know what our financial impact is going to be, but I also think, in the long term, an investment we make now would pay off huge dividends in the next twenty or thirty years, if we can get these kids to graduate, and unhealthy kids don’t learn well.”
While Schick expressed appreciation for those community members that had gotten involved and had put forth the effort to come to school board meetings and to make comments, he also expressed disappointment that the board had not heard from more parents, or anyone who might speak out in favor of the SBHC, and he said he hoped more people would get involved in finding alternative solutions for taking care of student health needs.
Schick then opened it up to public comment. Only four people had signed up to speak, and a couple who hadn’t signed up were allowed to address the board anyway, but since most of the audience members seemed to be opposed to the SBHC, there wasn’t really much to say except, “Thank you,” and to offer suggestions concerning how to move forward with finding other alternatives.
In the end, Dryburgh made a lengthy motion, asking the board to thank the community task force for its research efforts and its recommendations, but to stop pursuing the grant for the SBHC. Fox seconded the motion; there was no further discussion and the board voted three against one to accept Dryburgh’s motion. Irons offered the only “Nay” vote, and board member Brooks Lindner was absent from Tuesday’s meeting due to illness.
Earlier in the day, speaking at the Archuleta County Republican Women’s luncheon, Brad Cochennet, CEO of the Upper San Juan Health Service District, explained, “When that idea (for the SBHC) first was floated, we held our hand up and immediately said, ‘If there are kids that need health care, we will provide it.’ What form that looks like, what location, what scope of services, that was all up to the school board to decide and define for us.”
Referring to the health clinic that already exists on the hospital campus, Cochennet said, “I think it is our point of pride, frankly, in this community, that our door is open at that clinic for anybody, even anybody who has no money. We continue to take them into that clinic.
“Last year we probably had over two and a half million dollars in bad debt from services we provided where we did not get paid. We don’t lead with our financial objective. We try to make the books balance at the end of the year, but when I heard kids weren’t getting health care, we held up our hand and said we would do what we can.”
Cochennet went on to say that he would prefer not to get into the transportation business, but he was willing to explore all alternatives. He also suggested that if the SBHC didn’t work out, the health district could explore the possibility of opening a satellite clinic located downtown and accessible to everyone, not just school students.