Darlene A. Brown
Gary J. Hamre
Louise “Lou” Loomis
Mary A. “Muzzy” McIntyre
Kimberly Ann Neuenschwander
In the wake of a Milton teen’s suicide, the Rock County Human Services Crisis Intervention Unit will update its policies and retrain staff in accordance with a plan of correction approved by the state.
The county was required to submit a plan of correction after the state Department of Health Services Division of Quality Assurance investigated how the department handled the case of a Milton teen who died by suicide.
The plan was submitted to the state Sept. 24 and accepted Oct. 14, according to an email from a state quality assurance analyst to Rock County Human Services Director Kate Luster.
Family members of Cole Fuller, who died by suicide April 4, believe Rock County officials failed to help Cole during the 45 days he was under county supervision for a Chapter 51 mental health commitment.
Cole’s father, Jeff, filed a complaint with the state, hoping the county would be held accountable for failing his son.
The investigation identified four deficiencies in how Cole’s case was handled.
The changes proposed in the plan will be implemented by Oct. 30, according to the document.
The plan focuses on:
Crisis staff under revised policies will complete an “after visit summary” document to improve communication with clients, according to the plan.
The county’s venue transfer procedure will be updated to better coordinate transition between counties, according to the plan.
Under the revised procedure, a legal change of venue will not occur until treatment resources have been identified and coordination of care has occurred.
A policy will be developed to identify procedures and expectations for referral and linkage to services for clients at high risk of suicide, according to the plan.
Client crisis plan documents will be updated to include focuses on high-risk clients and provide clarity about when a plan is complete, according to the correction plan.
Grievance training will be developed to teach staff how to identify a complaint, how to document complaints and how to assist clients in filing grievances, according to the plan.
Crisis services will develop a policy regarding staff appointment cancellations and rescheduling, according to the plan. The policy will include identifying client needs and a process to cover appointments with other staff.
Investigators found prompt and adequate services were not provided to Cole “as evidenced by delayed case management appointments, a lack of referrals, and under-assigned risk potential.”
The most recent examination of Cole before his death determined he was at “high-risk of crisis, including suicidal and violent behavior” and had a history of losing progress when not receiving constant treatment, according to the report.
Cole’s family feels crisis workers did not take the result of Cole’s examination seriously, according to the report.
A crisis worker rescheduled meetings with Cole twice because of health problems, delaying Cole’s access to treatment.
The behavioral health division manager will review and update policies to ensure they reflect best practices for suicide screening and assessment, response, safety planning, assessing access to lethal means and lethal means counseling.
Other changes will update the crisis unit’s documentation procedures, according to the report.
“The policy changes and other actions referenced in the Plan Of Correction are well underway and the Crisis Intervention Unit remains committed to continuous quality improvement in our daily work with Rock County citizens experiencing complex behavioral health needs and risks,” Luster said in an email to The Gazette.
Explanations of Wisconsin’s public school financing system usually fall into one of two categories: Gross simplification or an approach that Janesville School District Chief Financial Officer Dan McCrea described as “granular.”
The first is usually employed to make a political point, and the second would be interesting only at a convention of school business managers.
But with Janesville property values going up, and Janesville school enrollment doing down, it’s crucial for people to understand how the system works and what it means for their schools and their pocketbooks.
The Janesville School Board is expected to approve the 2019-20 budget Tuesday night.
All of Wisconsin’s public schools, technical colleges, cities, towns and counties face revenue limits. The limits were imposed in 1993 in an effort to keep local property taxes in check.
At the most basic level, revenue limits dictate how much revenue a school or municipality can generate through local property taxes.
But here’s the kicker: The amount of money technical colleges and municipalities can generate through property taxes goes up when the property base expands through new construction.
That’s not how it works for public schools.
School funding is based on school “membership,” which is not exactly the same as enrollment.
McCrea refers to enrollment as the “belly button count:” Each child counts as one.
The membership method counts students in preschool or 4-year-old kindergarten as 0.5 or 0.6, depending on the program. Students in grades kindergarten to 12 are counted as one.
Students are counted for membership purposes on the third Friday in September. Between September 2013 and September 2018, the district’s membership dropped from 10,023 to 9,528. This fall, membership was 9,637. The slight uptick was due to more children in kindergarten classes and an increase in open enrollment for other districts.
To determine what the revenue limit is, membership is multiplied by the amount the district is allowed to raise per student, a figure that’s set by the state. This year, that about is about $9,700.
To that amount are added any exceptions. When school districts go to referendum, that amount is added in.
At a Janesville School Board Finance Committee meeting last week, McCrea explained what that would mean for local taxpayers: As enrollment goes down, state aid goes down. However, the amount that can be raised per student, that $9,700 amount set by the state, remains the same.
That means that more of the burden will shift from the state to the local taxpayers.
That hasn’t happened yet, but a recent property re-evaluation in the city of Janesville has left people nervous about tax increases. Assessments will go up an average of 31 percent, city officials say.
What does that mean for school taxes?
The tentative school budget, which probably will be approved next Tuesday, calls for total spending of $121.45 million, down from $121.55 million last year. Of that, $35.7 million will be covered by local property taxes. That’s down from $37.52 million last year, a decrease of 4.85%.
For taxpayers, that translates to an estimated tax of $8.10 per $1,000 of equalized property value, down from last year’s $8.51, a decrease of 4.82%.
But because property values are going up an average of 31 percent, doesn’t that mean the total amount of school taxes also will go up?
Probably not, McCrea said.
Here’s why: The school district will be collecting a smaller property tax total.
“We’re asking for a smaller amount of money from a larger pool (of property value),” McCrea said.
Enrollment has been dropping across the state, with rural districts being hit harder. Brodhead, Clinton and Parkview school districts all have struggled with declining enrollments.
Here’s the challenge: Declining enrollment is spread across 13 grades in numerous buildings. In Clinton, they have three buildings; Janesville has students in 20 locations. Even if a school loses enough students to eliminate a grade, that school still would need to be heated, it still would need school counselors and administration, maintenance people and secretaries.
Districts such as Parkview have resorted to referendums to cover operating expenses. The referendums are non-recurring, meaning that the district has to return to the public in another three years.
Between November 2017 and April 2019, 82 Wisconsin school districts had non-recurring referendums. The majority were for operating costs to maintain existing programs.
The Whitewater School District asked to exceed the revenue limit to maintain “comprehensive instructional and co-curricluar programs.”
Other districts used non-recurring referendums to upgrade technology.
McCrea said Janesville School District officials were not considering a referendum anytime soon.
School board members have noted that with new businesses in the area, such as SHINE, and the development of new housing projects, enrollment might even go up.