FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Hiring more mental health counselors will be a key request from Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio when the Jefferson County Board of Education begins identifying its budget priorities next week, Pollio said Monday.

Pollio testified before the School Safety Working Group and urged lawmakers on the panel to consider students’ needs for greater mental health and therapeutic services alongside more stringent security measures to keep schools safe.

“I know in today’s world what we’re all looking for is one lever to pull, one policy to pass, one thing to do that will fix a situation or an issue, and what I’ve come to learn in 23 years in education is there are very few things where one thing can happen in order to do that,” Pollio told the working group.

Pollio plans to put that into action at JCPS, telling reporters after the meeting that he will call for a significant investment in mental health counselors in the district’s budget for fiscal year 2020. That push comes at a time when JCPS is exploring the formation of a district-wide school security force.

Pollio said he would like to have mental health counselors in every one of the district’s 155 schools, with some schools possibly sharing counselors. JCPS has about 70 such counselors on staff, with some assigned to schools and others working in central office, he said.

To pay for those additional mental health professionals, Pollio said the district will need to consider repurposing some of its existing funding.

“We just know the need of our students, and we want to be able to provide for that,” Pollio said.

Additional funding for mental health counselors may be part of a legislative package to make schools safer.

Although the working group isn’t formulating a bill for the General Assembly’s consideration, a co-chairman of the panel says finding more resources for school security will be among his priorities in next year’s session, particularly since mental health has been a central theme of every meeting held by the group.

“We’re going to have to find where’s funding going to be with this,” Wise said.

He said he believes lawmakers will support dedicating more resources to school safety even in a non-budget session.

“I think the Commonwealth of Kentucky knows school safety is a major concern,” Wise said, noting that the working group has heard from large and small school districts and professionals in a number of areas surrounding various aspects of school safety.

What’s more, Kristi Putnam, deputy secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, indicated that the cabinet will start using federal Medicaid dollars to provide greater mental and behavioral health services for Kentucky students. That’s because the federal government recently relaxed some standards dictating health funding for schools.

“These school districts are already expending state and local dollars on these kinds of health care services, so to the extent that we are able to use those dollars to match federal funding, bring in more to the schools, we will be able to expand services for behavioral health, for counseling, for all the things that you’ve heard are so critical today,” Putnam said.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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