District 831 chooses 916 to meet mental health needs


NW_831 joins 916


Mary Bailey
Community Editor

Starting in November, the Forest Lake school district will once again be a member of Northeast Metro Intermediate School District 916.

At the Oct. 3 meeting, the school board voted unanimously to become a 916 member in order to receive specialized programs for students with serious mental illness or cognitive deficiency.

The move was recommended by Special Education Director Deb Wall and Business Services Director Larry Martini.

In August Wall told the board that the number of students with mental health issues is rising, and programs to treat them are becoming less available.

Two other options, to add a day treatment program in the district and to partner with another district, were rejected.

Forest Lake already buys some services from Intermediate District 916, paying non-member tuition and a non-member access fee. At some point it becomes cheaper to pay the fixed membership fee. Martini said the district is one or two students from passing the break-even point where it makes sense to join 916 (see chart).

To receive 916 services, Forest Lake now pays $732,957, which includes $164,270 in access fees. The annual fixed fee to be a member of Northeast Metro 916 is $150,615, plus tuition and fees.

By becoming a member, the district will have access to all other 916 programs and placement rights. The move has already been approved by 916, which voted on Oct. 1.

Board member Karen Morehead, who made the motion to become a 916 member, called it a great opportunity. “We had this at one time, but there were budget constraints,” she said.

District 831 was a member of 916 from 1997 to 2002. In the past the district also has offered a day treatment program, but it was disbanded because of inadequate physical facilities.

Member Gail Theisen asked about revisiting the idea of the district having its own program, and wondered if a concentration of students in the northern area might be better housed here.

Member Dan Kieger said this solution meets a need we have, and Member Kathy Bystrom called it a win-win to leverage our resources by partnering with other organizations. She also recommended that the district “be in a constant state of evaluation.”

If the board changes its mind and wants to dissolve the relationship, 916 has an 18-month exit strategy that begins in February and takes place the following year.