Stamford parents and teachers are urging city councils to keep schools’ budgets intact; the students “are not doing well”

STAMFORD — The social-emotional health of students was one of the main concerns raised Thursday night during Stamford’s first in-person public hearing on the budget since 2019.

Nearly a dozen members of the public offered commentary to members of the council of representatives’ finance council and tax committee who were seated at a table on the stage in the Westhill High School auditorium.

About half called for more social-emotional support for students, with some saying teachers are overwhelmed with the needs of children in the district.

Cami Murace, a teacher at Springdale Elementary School, implored the councils to “keep the proposed budget intact.”

Municipal councils can only reduce the overall amount of the school operating budget, not a specific item.

“Schools are understaffed and teachers are overworked, often wasting our lunch and prep times to cover other classes,” Murace said. “We face incredible demands to make up for lost learning while meeting the unprecedented emotional needs of our students.”

Among the schools’ budgetary priorities for the 2022-2023 financial year, the return of 33 kindergarten para-educators eliminated in the last two years due to the budget crisis caused by COVID-19. An increase of $2.3 million is also proposed for special education services, which would go to approximately 10 new teachers, two behavior analysts and additional services such as occupational and physical therapy, music therapy and art therapy and student assessments.

Another $1.5 million is being allocated from federal grants for social-emotional programs to address the impact of COVID-19.

Overall, the district is looking to add 83 positions between its operating and grant budgets. Among these positions, there would be two school psychologists, two speech therapists and a social worker.

Most students are “learning and growing,” Murace said, but the district also has “a large number of students who are not doing well.” Some children “spend their days on the floor under their desks crying,” she said, while others have taken action, throwing chairs at teachers or getting into physical fights with classmates.

“Not a day goes by in my school where the teachers don’t talk about what we can do to help our children, but we don’t always have the resources to do what is necessary,” she said. declared. “We only have one psychologist, one social worker and very few workers and resource teachers. Many children who need help cannot even be put on the list to be seen.

Murace said she was relieved to see funding included in the proposed budget for “emotional, behavioral and academic support staff.”

“I urge you to provide the necessary funds to make this happen,” Murace said.

Alicia Teitelbaum, a parent who spoke out on Thursday, said the children had been “traumatized by COVID” – and at school it was mainly the teachers’ job to try to help them.

“We give them too much to deal with on their own. They need support,” Teitelbaum said.

Another speaker, Judy Cleto, said social-emotional programs need to give English learners a chance to express themselves in their native language.

“To do this, schools need to hire adults who have had the same experiences as the students,” Cleto said.

The Finance Council is due to vote on the budget on April 19. The Council of Representatives is to follow on May 3.

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