August 11, 2011
By MICHAEL CIGNOLI
SARATOGA SPRINGS — An influx of requests from area school districts and state funding cuts have created a perfect storm for The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention Council of Saratoga County and its officials now must decide how to meet the county’s growing demand for anti-drug education.
The Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department is axing its D.A.R.E., or Drug Abuse Resistance Education, program out of its budget, a move that will allow Sheriff James D. Bowen to allocate the costs associated with the program elsewhere in his department.
While the Board of Supervisors sets the department’s budget, County Administrator Spencer Hellwig said it’s ultimately the sheriff’s call on how to spend his allotment.
D.A.R.E., a national program that aims to teach fifth-graders about the perils of drug use, is taught by law enforcement officers, but agencies across the nation are doing away with the program due to budget restraints.
The Saratoga Springs School District went without the D.A.R.E. program in the 2010-11 school year following cuts in the city’s police department, but the school district turned to the Prevention Council’s anti-drug program, Too Good for Drugs, to educate its students.
The problem, Prevention Council Executive Director Heather Kisselback said, is that her organization is also dealing with its own constraints.
“We’re in the same situation that the sheriffs are,” she said.
The Prevention Council has three full-time and one part-time prevention educator, Kisselback said, and the four teach a variety of programs in all 12 of the county’s school districts. The educators are juggling Too Good for Drugs with Too Good for Violence, an anti-bullying program, and other courses that encourage good decision-making among students ranging from preschool to the high school level.
In addition to time constraints, the Prevention Council is dealing with cuts to its state funding.
Kisselback said she’s already had to cut some of the program’s reach — last year Saratoga Springs’ fourth- and fifth-graders got Too Good for Drugs, this year it will be just the fifth-graders — and this upcoming school year is the first she’s actually had to turn schools seeking the Prevention Council’s courses away.
Kisselback said Shenendehowa, one of the school districts affected by the sheriff’s move, has reached out to bring Too Good for Drugs in as a replacement for the lost D.A.R.E. program. But Shen has 32 fifth-grade classes that need anti-drug education, Kisselback said, and that’s creating a challenge.
“I don’t have the staff to do all of that,” she said.
The Prevention Council is working on a combination of different solutions that will bring anti-drug education to Shen’s fifth-graders, Kisselback said. A possible solution would be combining classes that meet at the same time, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Shenendehowa School District officials could not be reached for comment by press time.
“We need to fairly meet the need of every district,” Kisselback said.
Kisselback said the basis of the overload problem is a good one — schools are recognizing what youths are going through and are well aware that education is important — but being able to provide that education comes back to finances.
“Drug use is still in this community, whether people want to talk about it or not,” she said.