City Council discusses providing mental health services for Berkeley school district students

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At its Tuesday meeting, the Berkeley City Council discussed a consent item that would create a contract with Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, to provide mental health services to its elementary through high school students.

The Mental Health Services Act, or MHSA, formerly called Proposition 63, was approved in 2004 by California voters and provides funding for California mental health services through a 1% tax on every dollar of personal income over $1 million. Incorporating mental health services through the MHSA is one of the city’s efforts to foster a relationship with BUSD, according to city of Berkeley mental health manager Steven Grolnic-McClurg.

“The Council previously approved the MHSA plan that provided funding for this proposed project, and has approved going into contract for three of the projects in the past,” Grolnic-McClurg said in an email. “These services will enhance BUSD’s ability to meet the mental health needs of its students.”

If the item is adopted by the city, four separate programs will be administered by BUSD: the Mental Health Peer Education Program, the Dynamic Mindfulness Program, Supportive Schools and the African American Success Project. Collectively, these programs will teach high school students about mental health difficulties, healthy coping mechanisms and stress resilience.

In previous measures, the city approved MHSA funding for all of these programs except for the African American Success Project. This new contract, however, would allocate up to $392,778 in MHSA funding for all four programs, including the African American Success Project.

“The Mental Health Division has worked closely with BUSD for many years, successfully implementing a variety of programs to support the mental health of students,” Grolnic-McClurg said in an email. “Funding programs administered by BUSD has proven to be an effective model in the past, and allows BUSD to make sure the programs are tailored to students’ needs.”

Although the funds for these programs are provided by the MHSA, City Council will have to approve the consent item in order for the money to be transferred to BUSD. Meanwhile, the Mental Health Division of Berkeley will provide oversight for the funding by monitoring BUSD’s contract, according to Grolnic-McClurg in an email.

The consent item did not garner any significant objections when the programs were approved previously, Grolnic-McClurg said in an email.

“Most mental health (services are) usually run through counties,” said Berkeley spokesperson Matthai Chakko, adding that the city is constantly looking to build a safer community. “Berkeley is one of the only two (cities) in the entire state that has its own mental health provision. We are very lucky to have the staff here … funding (these programs) through Berkeley schools is a way to help our community as a whole.”

Contact Sebastian Cahill at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SebastianCahil1.