Dozens of schools will get new access to mental health services for their students under a $30 million initiative that Chancellor Dennis Walcott unveiled today.
Walcott introduced the new initiative during a City Council hearing about the Department of Education's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.
Chancellor Dennis Walcott testifies at City Council's budget hearing today.
The Department of Education's proposed budget is $19.7 billion, 1.5 percent higher than this year. The increase, which comes after three years of budget cuts, is allowing the city to add teachers rather than cut them this year.
But Walcott cautioned that the city would still have to lay off 225 school workers who are represented by the District Council 37 union. Principals cut the workers loose last year but the department has been covering their costs, according to Walcott, who called the arrangement "unsustainable."
“I don’t want to see any layoffs, I know DC 37 doesn’t want to either, and most of all, neither do the men and women affected by the prospective loss of employment,” said Walcott. “If we can work with the union to identify savings and concessions to offset these costs, layoffs are avoidable, and I’m hopeful this can be accomplished.”
The department laid off around 700 school aides in October after negotiations to save their jobs failed. A DC-37 official declined to comment immediately on the threatened layoffs, saying that the union was surprised by Walcott's comments before the council.
Sonya Turner knew her daughter struggled in school, both socially and academically. But when an assistant principal called one afternoon last October to say that her daughter, Cashmiere, had turned suicidal and needed to be sent to the Emergency Room for psychiatric evaluation, Turner said she didn't believe it.
When she visited the school that afternoon to follow up, she was told she would not be allowed to speak with Cashmiere until she met with school administrators. Turner refused and angrily confronted school officials until she had to be restrained school safety officers.
"I was livid, I was cursing, I was very irate," Parker said. "If anyone should have been admitted to a psychiatric ward it should have been me, not my child,"
In the end, school officials sent Cashmiere to the ER anyway. She is one of hundreds of students who each year are forcibly referred to emergency medical services by principals who believe that they could be dangerous to themselves or others.
Those numbers are on the rise, education department officials told City Council members at a hearing on mental health services in schools today. During the 2010-2011 school year, principals and assistant principals sent students to the E.R. 947 times, a 12 percent spike from the previous school year.
"We have work to do because that number is not going in the right direction," said Deputy Chancellor Kathleen Grimm said in her testimony.