Southington School Board supports hiring mental health workers

SOUTHINGTON — School officials want to use federal pandemic funds to quickly hire eight new educators to improve student mental and behavioral health.

Education leaders said it was important to start hiring early in the summer because there is a shortage of school workers.

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

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

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

With behavioral and mental health issues on the rise as a result of the pandemic, Madancy said consistent support is important.

“What we asked for was a range of mental health professionals who perform a multitude 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 members said they were made aware of behavioral issues such as expulsions and suspensions.

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

Southington High School went into safe mode on Thursday after a student reported another student making a move with an object similar to the chamber of a bullet in a handgun. The object turned out to be a cell phone. The 17-year-old student who was observed making the request received a subpoena for breach of the peace.

Federal Pandemic Relief Funds

Madancy said mental health workers would be hired at an annual cost of $610,000. The money will come from federal pandemic relief funds — the U.S. Bailout’s Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund — and leave about $600,000 in undesignated federal funds for the district.

School and city leaders disagreed on the use of relief funds for the current year’s budget. School officials wanted the money to be used for mental and behavioral health items, such as the eight approved by the board at Thursday’s meeting, while city officials reduced the requested increase by the board of education, as relief funds could be used to pay teachers’ salaries and avoid layoffs.

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

Board member David Derynoski said 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.

“That’s what it was meant for,” he said. “I wish we could have done more last year. We wouldn’t have all these emails coming in, it seems almost daily, from students in crisis at the various schools.”

Hiring and ongoing funding

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

Colleen Clark, Board Chair, had questions about costs in future years. This coming year will be financed by 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 posts with ARP funding that year again.

The district’s budget for the upcoming school year did not include any new positions. Those positions that had been funded with federal funds were returned to the operating budget, Madancy said, freeing up funds for mental health positions.

[email protected]: @JBuchananRJ

Comments are closed.