A new, voluntary program to help Prince George's County school employes who have alcohol problems will begin this fall.
"I think this is one of the most humane and sensitive things we have ever done," said Norman H. Saunders, chairman of the Prince George's County Board of Education. "It shows we do care and we do sympathize with the problems of our people."
The Employe Assistance Program will offer help to teachers, administrators and maintenance staff members whose job performance is "adversely affected" by "alcoholism-related problems," according to a report prepared by a special committee appointed by the school board.
The program, recommended by Superintendent Edward J. Feeney, is scheduled to begin next fall at an estimated cost of $41,600 to $46,400. Qualified counselors will be hired to help employes who want help. Participation will be voluntary and confidential.
Committee members studied more than 1,000 alcoholism treatment programs at businesses and school systems around the country and met with staff members of the Montgomery County school system, which has had a similar program in operation for two years. The committee said it recommended approval of the project "because we recognize the work situation as one of he strongest motivating forces for early intervention in the course of this disease, which frequently costs employes their health, their jobs and their lives."
John Aubuchon, a spokesman for the school board, said that while there is no firm documentation of the extent of the alcoholism problem among Prince George's school employes, there is evidence that a problem does exist in the nation's schools. He cited a survey conducted by the American School Board Journal that estimated that 4 to 8 percent of any school staff has an alcoholism problem.
Although voting for the program, board member Bonnie Johns cautioned: "What we're seeing today is not just the alcohol problem. I just wish this program spoke more to the problem of the use and abuse of drugs as related to alcohol. There is evidence enough that that problem is serious.
At the meeting, which lasted nearly four hours, the board also passed resolutions to pay 50 percent of the vision and dental health insurance costs for retired employes and to raise wages of adult basic education teachers to keep pace with those teachers covered in negotiated union contracts.
Board Chairman Saunders said he was "appalled" that board members "would even consider paying only 50 percent of the costs" of retirees' vision and dental insurance. "We're sitting here quibbling over what percentage to dole out for our retired employes," said Saunders. "These people are at the twilight of their years, when money is at a premium and doctors' costs are skyrocketing. I'm simply appalled."
Several board members appeared especially sensitive to taxpayers pocketbooks. During a debate on how many years of employe service should be recognized by an award certificate, board member Sue V. Mills said: "I think this is all an unnecessary expense. If we don't start thinking more about the people of the country, and less about ourselves, we're going to hurt."
The board passed a motion to grant awards to employes with 20, 25 and 30 years' service.
The recent California taxpayer revolt also seemed to be on the minds of many of the 25 people in the audience. "Here they are passing money left and right for this and that, and they don't even know whether they have the money for it or not," said one woman.
"The school board does seem more attuned to costs," Feeney said after the meeting. "I suppose California's Proposition 13 had something to do with it, but I like to think that it's just level-headedness on their part. They're concerned a great deal about costs and are looking harder for compromises. I think it's good."