STAMFORD -- Within a $252 million school budget, many agree there is room for mental health program funding.
"Based on recent community conversations and a tragic loss of student lives in recent months, the need for mental health and suicide prevention services is an enormous concern," said Sue Rigano, executive director of the Stamford Public Education Foundation.
Stamford Superintendent Dr. Winnie Hamilton is adding a proposed $405,000 for mental health services, including staff training and student intervention, to the budget.
"I am pleased to see an increase for mental health services in the schools. I think we desperately need it," said Evelyn Simpson, a Stamford High School parent who spoke at the Stamford Board of Education's public hearing Thursday.
The board's Vice President Lorraine Olson said the whole district will be reached with new programs, including a new anti-bullying program, mental health first aid, crisis prevention and intervention, and cognitive behavior intervention. She said revisions will be made to the district's health curriculum to address social and emotional health.
"We hope adding these behaviorists will become crisis interventionists to go into the schools and help with all our kids," said Olson.
Kirsi Balazs, a Stamford High School student, also supported Dr. Hamilton's request for mental health funding.
"There are students who live on the outskirts of hope, because their mental illness has gone undetected, undiagnosed, and untreated due to few services or limited access to those services," said Ballis, who is a member of the Mayor's Youth Leadership Council.
Balazs urged the board to make sure every student in Stamford has access to prevention, intervention and treatment services and for adults in the school district to complete mental health training.
While presenting to the board, Rigano suggested mental health is not just a "school-based problem" but a "community problem."
Olson, who will chair the mental health subcommittee, said she wants the whole community to get involved with this district-wide effort.
"I really want to go back to that premise that 'it takes a village to raise a child', and make Stamford that village," said Olson. "We can't do this by ourselves as a school system, but this is a really good start; a good start to helping children."
While praising the board's mental health addition, some parents raised concerns about the $252,251,133 budget price tag -- calling it too low. At only 2.37%, the requested increase is the second smallest for Stamford's public schools since 2000.
"This is a lean budget," said Susana Vidan, a Hart School parent.
Vidan said it was not the "dream budget" and added overcrowding in the schools has a huge impact on services and quality of education.
"This is a budget that gets the job done and asks for staff and administrators and students to do the best they can with the limited resources," said Vidan.
Simpson echoed Vidan's concern, asking the board to consider funding more AP programs at the high schools, updating old text books and providing other resources for high schoolers to be successful. Some parents also spoke in favor of adding gifted and talented programs. However, most reacted positively to the mental health resource spending.
"This is a really big step for us to do this," said Olson, "So hopefully this is a good big step."
Olson said a consultant will make recommendations for each school, and staff training will begin during a staff development day after February vacation.
The board will vote on the budget Feb. 11. Then it will be reviewed by the boards of finance and representatives. It will be presented to the mayor before March 1.