Southington school board backs hiring mental health workers

Southington school board backs hiring mental health workers

SOUTHINGTON – School officials want to use federal pandemic funds to quickly hire eight new educators to improve the mental and behavioral health of students.

Education leaders said it’s important to make the hires early this summer since there’s a shortage of school workers.

School Superintendent Steven Madancy recommended hiring three social workers, a school psychologist, two board-certified behavioral analysts, a special education teacher and a program behaviorist.

Madancy suggested the district fund the positions with federal money for the upcoming school year and possibly the following school year. After that he hopes to use state money for mental health support for children, a provision in the budget approved by the General Assembly last month.

The additional mental health and behavior workers will allow more consistency with counselors assigned to schools as well as provide more support for elementary grade students. While some schools have full-time counselors and other help, others rely on part-time or contract workers.

With a rise in behavioral and mental health problems following the pandemic, Madancy said consistent support is important.

“What we requested was a range of mental health professionals that serve a host of functions,” he said. “We’ve had situations in the past where we’ve contacted outside agencies for set times… We can’t always predict when a student is in crisis.”

Board member said they’re made aware of behavior issues such as expulsions and suspensions.

“We all see it. We all get emails, we don’t get details but we see the issues,” said board member Zaya Oshana Jr.

On Thursday, Southington High School went into secure mode after a student reported another student making a motion with an object similar to chambering a round in a handgun. The object turned out to be cell phone. The 17-year old student who was observed making the motion was issued a juvenile summons for breach of peace.

Federal Pandemic Relief Money

Madancy said mental health workers would be hired at a yearly cost of $610,000. The money will come from federal pandemic relief funds – the American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund – and leave about $600,000 in undesignated federal money for the district.

School and town leaders differed on the use of relief funds for the current year’s budget. School officials wanted the money used for mental and behavioral health positions, such as the eight approved by the board during Thursday’s meeting, while town officials reduced the Board of Education’s requested increase since the relief funds could be used to pay teachers salaries and avoid layoffs.

Earlier this year, the Town Council approved a budget of $104.4 million for the school district for the 2022-23 school year, a 3.6 percent increase.

David Derynoski, a board member, said the pandemic relief funds should have been used for mental health workers in the current year’s budget. He was glad the district was hiring them now.

“This is what it was intended for,” he said. “I wish we could have done more last year. We wouldn’t be having all these emails coming in, it seems almost daily, of students in crisis at the different schools.”

Hiring and ongoing funding

Madancy said if the district were to wait to hire, other districts would have likely snatched up most of the available mental health and behavioral workers.

Colleen Clark, the board chairwoman, had questions about costs in future years. This upcoming year will be paid for through ARP funds.

“In 2023-24, what happens?” she asked.

“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there,” Madancy said. He expected to be able to fund the positions through ARP funding again that year.

The district’s budget for the upcoming school year included no new positions. Those positions that had been funded with federal money were moved back to the operating budget, Madancy said, freeing funds for the mental health positions.

jbuchanan@record-journal.com203-317-2230Twitter: @JBuchananRJ

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