Superintendent Corner Column
    Why Your Vote on Mental Health Matters
    October 2018
    “In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal.
    In every heart, there is the power to do it.” Marianne Williamson
    On November 6, 2018, the Verona community will have an opportunity to cast an important vote that would increase funding to the Verona Public Schools to invest in social emotional learning by increasing mental health programming and professional staffing at the elementary, middle, and high school level.
    Our teachers, administrators, and staff cultivate an environment that creates excitement for learning. We are fortunate to be able to create rigorous, academic environments with a diverse and robust curricula. The achievement of our students depends on it. Enhancing mental health programming supports student social and emotional development and is a key component to teaching and learning the whole child. We are committed to nurturing and developing all children, to sustain a positive culture and climate throughout our entire learning community; in our schools, in our community, and in your homes.
    Marc A. Brackett, professor and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University said, "When schools recognize that emotions drive much of how and what we learn, students and educators flourish ... Fortunately, we now know that not only are emotions relevant to intelligence, but that the more we repress them, the more they can affect our cognition and distort our perceptions."
    Keeping students and staff emotionally and physically safe is a top priority. We strive to ensure a positive school climate and culture in Verona. Our commitment to this endeavor is centered on both proactive educational measures and coordinated, strategic school planning to ensure a safe learning environment. Approval of this second question on mental health programming and expansion of staff would allow the District to enhance our program with a comprehensive support system of educational resources, both preventive strategies and interventions, to support children and families through collaborative partnerships within our community.
    Through our recent strategic plan, our community stakeholders included the District goal to develop a compassionate and respectful perspective as part of the global community along with Strategy #2: Uphold a healthy and respectful school culture consistent with our core values. The work and efforts to this question for a community vote is the result of the efforts of our devoted action committee on Mental Health & Suicide Prevention and Code of Conduct & Respect.
    On the financial front, the Verona Public Schools operates a lean and fiscally responsible school budget with low per pupil spending. There are several factors that have created financial constraints making funding new programs of this scope impossible via the current school budget:
    • The reduction in State aid amounts to a cumulative loss of $5.6 million to the Verona Public Schools since 2011. This fact translates into less funding to develop programs and expand staffing in our schools.
    • This loss in State aid equates to a loss of $705,000 per year on average.
    • The current State aid received in 2018 is still 23% less than in 2010.
    • The Verona Public Schools has never been fully funded based on the New Jersey funding formula.
    • Since 2011, the inception of the 2.0% cap on the property tax levy makes it prohibitive to increase the district's operating budget above the cap without approval from the taxpayer.
    We are fortunate to have a caring community dedicated to continuing to focus on providing a high quality education for our students. The second question to expand mental health programming has been thoughtfully developed and would provide additional mental health programming and staffing for $9 per month ($108 per year) to the average assessed household. Social emotional learning is a factor that impacts academic achievement and personal development, allowing our students to maximize their individual potential. I encourage you to become informed by reviewing the information below and voting on November 6th.
    All my best,
    Dr. Rui Dionisio
    Superintendent of Schools
    Click the following LINK for more details on the second ballot question on mental health programming and expanding special education staffing.