Mesa Public Schools is receiving close to $3 million in state School Safety Grants to funnel toward funding school resource officers and counselors.
Through the Arizona Department of Education, the district secured 13 school resource officer grants with an average annual cost of $117,000, and 19 counselor grants with an average value of $70,000.
The positions will be funded through a three-year cycle beginning next school year.
“We are thrilled to have them,” said district spokeswoman Helen Hollands. “This is a huge benefit to our students and our families.”
School resource officers play a large security role in schools with some class time, she explained, and counselors provide social-emotional support.
The district’s school resource officer grants are continuations for junior high schools and high schools, while the counselor grants are slated for only elementary schools.
Earlier this year, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill expanding the School Safety Program, which funds ADE-trained school resource officers and juvenile probation officers.
The expansion added $20 million to the original $12 million, creating a new $32 million program and giving districts the choice between counselors and school social workers or resource officers.
“This is a big win for Arizona schools,” said Education Department spokesman Richie Taylor.
“For the first time, we’re dedicating money for counselors, social workers and behavioral support,” he continued. “I think it’s a step in the right direction we should be taking as a state.”
Although MPS was already participating in the program before the expansion, it needed to be strategic with how it moved forward.
Hollands explained there was only a short period to apply for the new positions following the announcement.
“We had a real tight window for filling out the application online,” she said. “Prior, we were already working toward the re-upping of the [SRO] grants, so we had a lot of the data and information already available.”
“But the school counselor grants were new to us, so it took some legwork to be able to pull the information together to make the case for the schools we applied for,” she added.
The district created a criterion to help determine which schools would benefit from counselors the most, including their qualifications for free and reduced lunch, student-counselor ratios and surrounding neighborhood.
The decision to add the counselors to only elementary schools was predicated on the success of the district’s addition of 37 new counselors to grade schools at the beginning of the school year.
“We decided to add counselors to elementary schools due to the overwhelming support it received from before,” said Hollands.
“A counselor, especially at an elementary level, focuses much of their time on the social and emotional learning of our students,” she continued. “One of the things we’ll say over and over again is, for a student to learn and learn well, they need to be ready to learn.”
“Many times,” she added, “students are dealing with life and they need help with coping skills and strategies our school counselors can work on.”
The district also opted out of applying for grants for more than one position per school, said Hollands.
Existing grantees continuing on the program – with no change in their position – will continue to receive funding for their school resource officer for the new grant cycle, according to the ADE website.
New grantees will receive access to funds when they have a contract in place and will have until August 2020 to fill their new position.