Hamilton schools already provide a range of services for its 10,000 students, but there remains a missing aspect – mental health counseling – that is key for making those schools safer, according to the district’s leader.
Counseling to identify and help students with mental health issues is the main piece of Hamilton Schools’ campaign for a school security tax hike that is also being proposed by four other Butler County school systems.
“On a daily basis within the district, we provide the majority of our students with breakfast and lunch, and many eat dinner with us at the high school four nights a week as well,” said Hamilton Schools Superintendent Larry Knapp.
The city schools “also provide health, vision, and dental services (district wide) … through our school based health center at Garfield Middle School.”
But Knapp contends “mental health needs now represent the last but very substantial barrier for our teachers to be able to cross in order to teach many of our students. Our teachers need to be trained in how to help identify students’ needs and how to work with these students once identified.”
Hamilton – along Fairfield, Edgewood, Monroe and New Miami schools – has used a new state law to form for the first time a collective school tax district and are asking voters in their districts to approve a 10-year, 1.5-mill levy on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Officials from all five districts have adopted a campaign theme that mental health counseling — for identifying and helping troubled students who may be violence or bullying risks — is the main benefit for residents to approve the tax hike, though the tax will also pay for more armed security officers in schools.
Meeting the mental health needs of students is the last barrier, said Knapp, to raising the quality of schools in Hamilton.
And the problems of students coming from backgrounds of dysfunctional, neglect and abuse is on the rise, Knapp contends, citing local, county and state statistics.
He said 68 percent of Hamilton students come from families poor enough to qualify for federal meal assistance at school and that 22 percent of residents live in poverty.
Moreover, he cited county statistics that show 8 percent of Butler County children have a chronic mental health problem.
“If we can get the services needed for our students and also the training for our teachers, the safety levy could represent and truly become a turning point for the district and the city of Hamilton by de-stigmatizing the mental health needs of our community and addressing them at the earliest possible moment with our children,” he said.
But the five-district, safety tax levy has drawn opposition from some local officials, most notably Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.
Joining them is Hamilton resident Rich Kammer, who echoes those who question the need for proposed property tax increase.
“I am on disability and in my 60s and already pay over $1,200 in school tax. If I want security at my home I have to put it in my budget, there is no one that I can go to and say I need money so I can put security in my house, so why don’t you look at where you can cut your budget to put security in the schools instead of going around saying we need money to do this?” Kammer said.
Kammer also objects to the new type of security tax issue that may mean a tax increase for Hamilton residents even if voters within the city reject the levy.
If voters in a school system do not approve the new tax — but the tax wins voter approval in other participating districts — residents in the district where the tax was defeated will still have to pay the tax increase and will also receive the new funds for their local schools.
“If (Hamilton school officials) believe residents will vote yes, then why not go it alone?” Kammer said. “ I really don’t like the idea of citizens of other districts having a say in what my school property taxes are if this is voted down in Hamilton. I’m sure there are plenty of taxpayers that feel the same way.”
Hamilton — and some other districts campaigning for the security tax — are holding town hall meetings for their residents with questions or comments about the issue.
Knapp and other school district officials will hold its latest town hall at 7 p.m. today at the Booker T Washington Community Center at 1140 South Front St., then at 7 p.m. Oct. 23 at Lindenwald United Methodist Church, 3501 Pleasant Ave. in Hamilton.