Amid opioid crisis, CASA’s funding to fight drug abuse to shrink

Amid opioid crisis, CASA’s funding to fight drug abuse to shrink
Manhasset Secondary School ranks the highest of any North Shore school on US News & World Report's list of New York's top 100 high schools. (Photo courtesy of the Manhasset School District)

By Rebecca Melnitsky

The Manhasset Community Coalition Against Substance Abuse is facing a significant decrease in its budget next year.

The organization, which was founded in 2001 to reduce the underage use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, is losing a federal grant that provides the majority of its budget.

At the Manhasset Board of Education meeting on Thursday night, CASA Executive Director Jennifer DeSena presented a potential budget for the 2018-2019 year and discussed changes and cuts to close the gap.

“There’s a lot of flexibility,” she said.

The program’s Drug Free Communities grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is ending on Sept. 30. After 10 years, CASA is no longer eligible for the grant, according to DeSena.

CASA has received $125,000 each year from the federal grant, and $35,000 from the Manhasset school district this year.

The Board of Education approved a $10,000 increase in funding for CASA last July.

“If we can strengthen these kids before they turn 17 and leave, they’ll be better off their whole lives,” said DeSena. “And it benefits the community. Obviously prevention is going to benefit every child K-12… All the taxpayers benefit… I think it’s a great use of taxpayer money.”

The prospective budget is almost $99,000, a decrease of $64,000. It eliminates DeSena’s Executive Director position, cutting $30,000. The sole remaining employee would be the Project Director, which is allocated $70,000 for salary and payroll taxes.

Also eliminated is a monthly accountant to manage grant funds. In the prospective budget, such responsibilities would be taken over by a CASA board member volunteer. Paper mailings, educational brochures, newspaper and television ads and marketing signs would also be reduced. “I think we can go more digital,” DeSena said. “Those are all things we can tinker with. To maintain essentially the same CASA that we have, this is what we need as a start.”

The coalition also receives $10,000 from the Manhasset School Community Association to pay for Red Ribbon Week programs and materials.

“That’s something we have to negotiate again because the SCA agreement is ending,”  DeSena said. “It was a five-year plan… I’m ready to meet with them when they start doing their budget and we’re hoping that they will want to do the same thing… If they want to change Red Ribbon Week that’s always an option.”

These funds were not included in the prospective budget.

DeSena talked about seeking new funds from the Manhasset Community Fund, State Senator Elaine Phillips, additional partners, and other grant sources. DeSena said she met with Phillips, who expressed interest in supporting the CASA student athlete program.

Superintendent Vincent Butera suggested that CASA reach out to Assemblyman Anthony D’Urso.

“There is an unknown, and that is still is the [Manhasset school] budget,” said Butera. “So it is very difficult for the board… to entertain what are our obligations moving forward, and how much opportunity do we have for additional projects or entities. That still is a wildcard.”

He added that the school board would have a better idea of available funds as the budget is finalized in the coming weeks.

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