Share This Page

Western Pennsylvania districts now hiring school psychologists

| Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Prompted by the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit's decision to stop providing mental-health services, officials of local school districts are hiring their own school psychologists.

Starting next school year, the intermediate unit no longer will offer the services of school psychologists to districts across the county, executive director Luanne Matta said.

“Over the past several years, we were seeing districts hire their own psychologists to utilize them in other capacities, as well as testing,” Matta said. “The decision was made this year to eliminate psychological services to school districts and just provide these services for (intermediate unit) run programs.”

In the Franklin Regional School District, that decision won't result in any new faces.

Officials on Monday offered Michael Cowen a three-year contract to serve as psychologist for the district. Cowen worked with the district through the intermediate unit for several years, Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac said.

He will earn an annual salary of $85,000.

The cost is similar to what the district paid the intermediate unit for the services, Reljac said.

School psychologists commonly work to identify students with special needs or students who are gifted. They also address behavior problems that interfere with student success.

In recent years, officials in local districts began looking elsewhere for psychological services, Matta said. The intermediate unit's program began to increase in cost because of state-mandated retirement contributions and health care costs, she said.

Now, school districts will pay all of those costs, Matta said.

The move was a tough decision spurred by finances, said Roberta Cook, assistant secretary of the intermediate unit's board and a member of the Franklin Regional School Board.

“It's excruciating to furlough employees,” Cook said.

But intermediate units have to change how they operate, she said. Despite being a state agency, the organization receives no state funding. That has caused it to function like a business, rather than an education provider, Cook said.

“As a citizen, I feel it's really unfortunate that we can no longer focus on the mission of supporting the needs of the student alone,” Cook said. “Instead, we have to support the needs of our students and be financially viable. They're treating a vital educational function as a business.”

In the Penn-Trafford School District, officials made the decision to cut ties with the intermediate unit's program last year, Superintendent Matt Harris said.

The district hired an in-house school psychologist who works with students of all abilities and works closely with school support staff, Harris said.

The move saved the district money but also had other benefits, he said.

“We gained more service time for our students, which is really most important,” Harris said.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.