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Dallas ISD almost doubles its psychiatric services budget because of COVID, other stresses

A student writes an answer during class on Monday, Aug. 14, 2023.
Yfat Yossifor
More students need psychiatric services, Dallas ISD says, but the district doesn't have enough providers.

Pandemic stresses continue rippling through Dallas ISD.

The district’s Deputy Chief Sherry West said as a result of COVID, the district saw an increase in the number of students needing psychiatry services through Dallas ISD’s youth and family centers.

That raised the need for more psychiatrists. But these days, said West, psychiatrists are in higher demand – and more expensive.

“With the COVID pandemic, a lot of the services that psychiatrists were providing are now transitioning to contract services,” she said at a school board briefing earlier this month. “So while we were employing some psychiatrists, we now are seeing the need to do more of contracting services.”

Board members on Thursday approved a new five-year, $7.5 million contract to replace the current almost $4 million one.

Dallas ISD used to employ eight psychiatrists, said mental health services executive director Tracey Brown. At the recent board briefing, she told trustees that the district lost a few psychiatrists, but to hire more back, it’ll have to pay more. The market price has changed.

“The average salary for contracted psychiatrists is about $225 per hour,” she told trustees. “Right now, we’re paying about $185.”

Trustee Joyce Foreman wanted to make sure the mental health contracts didn’t overlap. In the past, mismanaged contracts and funds forced the district into debt. Foreman was told the new contract would replace the old one, closing it out, and that the same five contracted psychiatrists have agreed to the new deal.

“I’ll be watching,” she said.

Updated: December 22, 2023 at 2:36 PM CST
This story was updated to reflect the results of Thursday's board vote.
Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.