There’s a budget issue that needs your full awareness and help; please consider emailing town officials about this right now.
One of the first town meetings I watched soon after the start of GOOD Morning Wilton was a session of the Wilton Security Task Force. Comprised of school administrators and counselors, security experts and town officials–including the chairman, second selectman Hal Clark—the WSTF made one crucial recommendation, that the school district should create two new staff positions in the area of security and safety.
One new position was a second school resource officer, who would join Wilton Police Officer Richard Ross as a prime liason between the student population and the police department.
The second position was boundary pushing–the job title and description termed the new role as “Threat Assessment Coordinator.” Scary sounding stuff, but since we now live in an era where school shootings are on the rise, and traumatic images like we’ve seen from Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and countless others, the advice of school security experts seemed wise to follow.
One such expert, Dr. David Bernstein, a forensic school psychiatrist, now consults with Wilton’s school district and it was his advice the task force was following. According to several presentations he’s made to school administrators, staff, parents and students, the likelihood of a violent threat coming from outside the school community was lower than some sort of threat coming from within.
A Threat Assessment Coordinator–in truth, a mental health professional–would be proactive rather than reactive in helping students cope with the stresses of school and life to help prevent troubled situations from escalating into dangerous ones, where student safety and lives would be at potential risk.
Thus the position was added to the original suggested budget for FY ’15, presented earlier this year by administrators to the Board of Education, which in turn presented the budget to the Board of Finance, which then presented budget numbers to town residents. Then, on April 1, the Bd. of Finance asked the BoE to trim the requested budget by $750,000, paring down an already skin-and-bones financial plan.
So it was surprising to hear that, of all the possible areas where cuts could be made, school administrators suggested eliminating that threat assessment coordinator, especially when security and safety are at issue. Administrators have said they will consult with Dr. Bernstein to work on ways existing staff and systems could incorporate the responsibilities of the role.
The title of “threat assessment coordinator” seems somewhat of a misnomer or scary exaggeration designed to push some buttons. Mention ‘threat’ in the context of school and student safety, and it’s easy to conjure images of students crouching in fear of a lone gunman patrolling hallsways and picking off teens one by one.
But the truth is, the majority of the threat comes in a form that’s not quite as graphic and dramatic–but certainly lethal nonetheless. Bullying; self-injurious cutting; anxiety and depression; rising drug and alcohol use; violence. Our student population is increasing overburdened and stressed, and these kinds of threats are regularly keeping some Wilton students out of class and preventing them from learning.
Wilton children deal with not just the rigorous educational demands of a high performing school district but an increasing number of other external issues that school professionals are themselves becoming overburdened with helping the kids cope. And experts say it’s those kinds of “threats” that, left untreated and festering, have the potential to become much more life-threatening, either when the one student whose suffering turns on himself–or on many others.
One of the prime reasons the WSTF created the position was because school counselors described a mandate-burdened culture; one in which they’re required to perform large numbers of assessments and write countless reports. Often their current mental health teams are unable to really be able to focus on the mental health part of the job. That’s why this role was conceived, with a job description that blocks testing and reporting, and focuses solely on the kids.
God forbid Wilton ever has to deal with an epic violent situation in the schools. No one wants that. And no one thinks that one $85,000 salaried position would be the sole thing in the way to stop such a thing from even happening. But the kind of professional we’re talking about could go a long way toward blocking the kinds of “threats” that are more likely to impact Wilton students–and already are.
How can you make town officials know just how important it is to keep this $85,000 item in the budget? Time is crucial. The Bd. of Ed will be finalizing their budget tomorrow–Thursday, April 24. Email them now at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just in case the BoE doesn’t add the position back in, let the Bd. of Finance know they too have the power to add that position back in, by reinstating $85,000 of their directed cuts. You can email them now at email@example.com.
Heather Borden Hervé is editor in chief of GOOD Morning Wilton. She has been covering the Wilton schools and Wilton politics for several years. She has two children who attend Wilton schools.