By John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

The town of Carbondale has joined forces with the Roaring Fork School District in a campaign to convince teenage students that it is dangerous and inappropriate to drink alcohol or use marijuana and other drugs while their brains are still in the formative stage.

But the partnership, forged at a meeting of the town Board of Trustees on Tuesday, did not come together without a little conflict, in the form of heavy criticism of the school district over what one trustee deemed a dereliction of the district’s duty with regard to student mental health issues.

The trustees, after considerable debate, agreed on Tuesday to dedicate $20,000 in revenues generated by the legal sale of marijuana in town, to help pay for a special clinician service at area schools, and an outreach campaign aimed both at the community at large and parents with kids in the local schools.

Town Manager Jay Harrington told the trustees that this year’s budget anticipates collection of at least $30,000 in the fund, noting that $7,000 of the fund already had been earmarked for another purpose.

The school district’s two-pronged approach is at least partly in response to a recent survey that indicated local students are at higher risk for drug and alcohol use, cigarette smoking and other troubling social behaviors than some students elsewhere in the state.

The district programs also are aimed at educating parents about the underlying issues related to student drug and alcohol use, by providing parents with information and tactics they can use when discussing these matters with their kids.

Representatives of the school district — including Assistant Superintendent Rob Stein, Roaring Fork High School Principal Drew Adams and Family Resource Center Director Jenny Lindsay — had presented the trustees with a proposed budget of $30,000 to help cover the costs of the counseling and the outreach, which also is being funded by a donation from the Hope Center, an Aspen-based mental health advocacy group.

The request for Carbondale’s funding was directly aimed at using revenues the town receives from the sale of cannabis products by so-called “recreational” pot shops.

But Trustee Allyn Harvey, after being told that the school district itself is not providing funds to the campaign, condemned the district for that position.

“I find it appalling, sir, appalling,” he told Stein, adding that in his eyes, “frankly, mental health is an issue, frankly the number one challenge, to the success of students.”

Noting that Carbondale has “a fairly thin budget” and should be focusing its financial resources on the town itself, he argued that the mental health of students should be addressed with school district funding and support.

“I have a problem with the district not funding this stuff,” Harvey declared.

Stein, however, responded that the district does provide support in other ways, such as school nurses and other programs aimed at helping students cope with the stresses of life.

“What I would hate for you to think is that we’re not in this with you,” he told Harvey.

Trustee Pam Zentmyer, agreeing conceptually with Harvey’s assessment of the situation, expressed concern that the town was being asked to spend a large portion of its cannabis-generated tax income in ways that she indicated may not be the best use of those revenues.

Stein responded that the district feels constrained to strike a balance in its approach to education as well as student health issues, and that it is not necessarily part of the district’s “core mission” to provide mental health services to students.

He conceded that some might feel the district should “step up” and fund this kind of program.

But, he continued, the pot-generated fund controlled by the town was intended for educational purposes regarding marijuana use.

“For me, this money is just sitting there,” he said, adding that counseling and outreach programs are just what the fund was meant for.

In the end, the trustees voted unanimously, 6-0, to contribute $20,000 out of the town’s 2015 budget to the district programs, and Mayor Stacey Bernot suggested that the trustees probably will discuss further contributions during deliberations of the municipal budget for 2016.

In other action the trustees:

• Approved liquor license renewals for Konnyaku restaurant, and for Sopris Liquor & Wine, as well as a special tasting permit for Sopris Liquor & Wine.

• Approved a special event liquor license for the Carbondale Clay Center’s Cajun Clay night, a fundraising party scheduled for June 27 at the Main Street non-profit.

• Approved a special event liquor license for the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, for the Bicycle Tour of Colorado stop in Carbondale on June 22. A companion request of $4,000 for a “taste of Carbondale” party at Fourth and Main was trimmed to $2,500 after a chamber representative said they wouldn’t hold the event if the town didn’t fund at least part of the $4,000. After the meeting, trustee Allyn Harvey told The Sopris Sun the town did not fund $1,500 from the $4,000 request, which is equal to the estimated liquor cost the chamber included in its request for funds.

• Approved a request to buy additional solar panels from the Clean Energy Collective solar farm installations, to offset energy use at the town’s water and wastewater treatment plants.

• Approved a special use permit for a marijuana infused products manufacturing operation by Colorado Product Services, owned by James Leonard and Robert Pinchuck, to be located at 655 Buggy Circle on the north side of town.

Published in The Sopris Sun on May 28, 2015.