To the Editor:

As we approach the New Milford school budget hearings at the Town Council and Board of Finance, I would like to request they consider adding $300,000 back into the Board of Education’s budget. I know this is an unusual request.

Historically, the Town Council usually cuts more out of the BOE budget instead of adding to it. But the superintendent’s budget came in at 2.86 percent increase over last year’s, which was the second lowest increase for towns in our area.

And what was cut by the BOE, a social emotional program called Effective School Solutions, was really a blow to all the students’ social and emotional health. Especially when this issue is at the fore front of our national psyche with topics like school violence, suicide, and the opioid epidemic, this needs to be addressed.

Effective School Solutions (ESS) is a program that serves those students who need more support than the school may be able to provide.

In many cases, these students might be placed in an out of district program that could cost the district anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 a year per student. So this program is a cost avoidance for the district.

The board chair mentioned at the budget adoption, that she felt the reason to cut this program was due to the fact that out of district placements haven’t decreased while this program was in place

Perhaps as more students entered the district with special needs, the outplacements stayed the same because the ESS program was servicing students who might have potentially been outplaced.

A few of our surrounding districts are struggling with the increase of this problem but have not budgeted enough money to provide for these unexpected mandated services.

So legally, to provide these services, they have to go back to the town asking for more taxpayer money to fund it. This hasn’t happened for the New Milford taxpayers.

The board chair also mentioned at the budget adoption meeting, that she felt this program wasn’t a need but a want.

If you ask any parent or grandparent of a special need student if support for their child’s social emotional needs is a want or need, I’m sure you’ll get a different answer.

The majority decision from the six Republican BOE members was to cut this program. The suggestion of adding a social worker at the HS to help with the added work load this decision would create, was declined saying it would be too expensive.

So now our support staff will be doing more with less support. This will not only affect those students no longer in ESS, but all the students in the school as there will be less time for the social emotional needs of our students to be addressed.

And as any parent will attest to, all students need support in this area as they navigate their way to adulthood.

I urge the Town Council and the Board of Finance to consider adding this $300,000 back into the BOE budget.

Of course, the BOE are the ones who decide where the money is spent in their budget. I hope they would put the money, if added and approved by the town voters, towards continuing the ESS program.

Mental health programs are essential for our students’ success. By returning this program to our school, it makes a strong statement about the value system we, as a community, support. I always believe as a society (or town), how we care for our neediest, is a reflection of our moral compass.

Bill Dahl