Board Continues Conversation on HowardCenter’s Role at School

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Thursday May 30, 2013

Regular updates on the status of the HowardCenter’s permit to open a methadone clinic at 364 Dorset Street have remained on every board meeting agenda since information on the plans came to light last summer. Last month, the  Board learned that HowardCenter had begun interior renovations to Suite 101. The Board filed a motion with the Environmental Court to stay construction, and while the judge acknowledged the arguments made by the school board, he decided that there would not be irreparable harm caused by allowing the interior renovations to begin. Since this case is now before the Environmental Court, the Board will have discovery rights to verify facts that could potentially be inconsistent with initial information. 

This week, Young reported that the Board has submitted all of their information regarding discovery and they should have a response from the HowardCenter by May 31st. Additionally, Young has requested information about  construction completion, so that the District has ample time to implement additional security measures, should the clinic begin serving patients. District use of HowardCenter services  is one of the issues that continues to surface.  At the last school board meeting, Martin LaLonde mentioned that he is frequently asked by community members why the District is still using the HowardCenter; he requested that Superintendent David Young outline the services the school receives from the HowardCenter. 

Joanne Godek, Director of Educational Support Systems was on hand to present information and to answer questions.

LaLonde was interested in exploring whether a cost/benefit analysis would reveal that there are other agencies or avenues that could provide the same services. He suggested bringing certain services in-house; suggesting that this alternative could not only be financially advantageous, but could benefit students as well. However, Godek explained that HowardCenter is the designated mental health services provider for the state. “Our mission has always been to meet all the needs of our students, some students need the least restrictive options and we need to offer them. We can’t do it all in house,” Godek explained, “It would cost us a lot more to bring the clinicians in house.”Diane Bugbee said they also need to consider continuity of care and limiting disruption to families who receive multiple services from the HowardCenter. She added that the HowardCenter contributes a lot to the school’s mentoring program in terms of staffing. “Just because we disagree on this one issue isn’t a reason to cut them out entirely” Bugbee said. Superintendent David Young added, “We have a great staff that are very much a part of our schools and provide great service.”

Chair Richard Cassidy offered an alternate viewpoint to LaLonde’s suggestion. He suggested that rather than becoming more distant from the HowardCenter, perhaps getting closer would help foster a positive relationship that could have benefits in the future. 

But, LaLonde explained that he, as a board member, does not feel any positivity toward the HowardCenter at all since he thinks they are being hypocritical by trying to open a methadone clinic in such close proximity to the schools. Therefore, if there was any alternative to using HowardCenter without harming students, he wanted to have that information. 

Godek explained to the Board that she and her team already look at cost saving measures all the time and if it had been more advantageous both financially and for the students, they would have already made some of the changes LaLonde mentioned.As construction continues at 364 Dorset Street, Superintendent Young and the Board will keep this item on the agenda for regular updates to keep parents and the public routinely informed. The school District website also provides a timeline of events with complete legal document accessibility.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent