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Dozens protest Peer Counseling cut

West Seneca East Senior High School seniors Shannon McCooey and Nick D'Amaro might rather have been out celebrating the last day of their high school careers Monday night.

Parent Rose Tracy had plenty to do with her family at home on a late spring evening.

It would make sense if Canisius College student Kaitlyn Dickey, a West Seneca graduate, didn't care anymore.

Instead, all five were among a contingent of dozens of vocal proponents of West Seneca's popular Peer Counseling program that blitzed Monday's Town Board meeting to admonish board members for scrapping the town's three-decade-old program for lack of available funding.

"I feel I am a positive role model and you have stopped me from making the impact I've made," Michelle Anderson, a peer counselor from West Seneca East, told the board.

Dickey, who spent three years in the program in West Seneca, told the board she was "appalled" by the shutdown of the program: "These are youth who are trying to help people."

Anderson, who said she joined "because she wanted to have a positive effect on youth," added, "I feel I truly made a difference to each child I taught."

She was far from alone. In all, about a dozen and a half students -- all in West Seneca 2012 Peer Counseling T-shirts -- dominated the public input session of the meeting.

Designed to have students mentor fellow students about the evils associated with drugs and alcohol, bullying and teen suicide, the 85-student-strong program in West Seneca is unlike anything in Western New York, agreed proponents and board members alike.

But, that's where the agreement ended. Board members encouraged the students to take their spirit to the School Board. The town tried, they said, to no avail.

"This isn't something we decided overnight. This was after years of research," said Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan. "It's a great program. We're not saying it's not. What our concern is that we have a 2 percent property tax cap that we have to respond to."

Added Councilman Eugene P. Hart: "For many years the town of West Seneca has funded the vast majority of Peer Counseling. I would like to see these young people go to their school board. I'm more than willing to negotiate."

Hart said he wants a more equitable funding for the program. While the town spends $125,000 annually on the program, the schools fund about $12,000, according to Hart.

"If the School Board agrees to share more of the cost of this program. I'll agree to the change," said Hart, who lauded the students' passion but explained the board "has to look out for taxpayers."

Peer Counseling program directors Donna Lepore of West Seneca West and Jolynn Keane of West Seneca East disputed the figures, saying they each earn in the low $30,000 range.