© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

San Antonio ISD leaders say student calls for more mental health support merits increasing deficit

A girl with her head down leaning against school lockers
Fang Xia Nuo
istockphoto by Getty
SAISD is adding mental health funding after students said they need more resources.

When San Antonio ISD trustees vote on next school year’s budget in late June, part of the recommendation will be for $2.4 million in additional mental health support.

Superintendent Jaime Aquino recommended the extra funding at the district’s final budget presentation to the board on May 20. He said he felt driven to add it to the budget after watching a student-led presentation on the state of the district in May.

“Our students are dying. They're struggling. So, we have decided to begin increasing our mental health support for our students and their families,” Aquino told the board.

“It's been clear that the state is not going to do anything to support our kids … so this is going to increase our budget deficit,” he added. “But our students are facing a crisis, and we need to listen to the voices of our students.”

With the new mental health funding, the district's projected deficit for next school year is $46 million.

In preparation for leading the state of the district, SAISD’s student advisory council held focus groups with 700 students, including younger students at the district’s elementary schools. Increased mental health support was one of their key findings.

“Students want adults to know that they face real academic, social and emotional challenges,” Young Women’s Leadership Academy graduating senior Malena Flores told the board during a May 13 presentation on the findings. “While we have made a progress on bullying, this continues to be a challenge.”

“We also heard during our focus groups that students don't think or feel adults understand how hard it is being a kid right now. They're growing up in a very different reality,” Burbank High School graduating senior Jalynn Garcia said. “They are a different generation with new and different challenges that have not been seen before.”

“The majority of the students we spoke with during our interviews feel unheard by adults. And in a school district preaching the value of Familia, this was heartbreaking,” Flores added. “School should be a safe place for children to be themselves and flourish.”

At the final budget presentation, Aquino said the district has increased mental health resources over the past few years, but a high level of need remains.

According to district estimates, SAISD spends more than $20 million a year on mental health. The additional funding would bring spending on mental health to $22.4 million next school year.

Earlier in the budget process, the district prioritized keeping mental health employees hired using federal COVID recovery dollars after that funding expires in September, in part through partnering with Communities in Schools.

Because the additional $2.4 million was proposed late in the process, district leaders are still working out the best use of the funding, but Deputy Superintendent Patti Salzmann said it would most likely be used to “strengthen mental health support services at the elementary [level]” and “put a full-time staff member” on middle school and high school campuses.

“We've heard from our students, we've heard from our mental health professionals on campus, we've heard from our teachers and our leaders that this type of preventative measure is important,” Salzmann said. “We need to begin to position ourselves so that we're providing support to students before they have significant crises.”

Aquino told trustees metrics to hold them accountable and make the best use of the funds will be available later. Still, he said that even the full $22.4 million will not be enough to fully meet the need.

“Given the crisis that we're having, it is not enough. I mean, I think every single school needs clinicians. Several. Not one. Several,” Aquino said.

“Mental health, unfortunately, there is still a stigma. And some of our students, some of our adults do not disclose it. It's so hard. We are losing kids that have not given us any sign that they are in need,” he added.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide or is in crisis, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Education News Desk, including H-E-B Helping Here, Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation and Holly and Alston Beinhorn.

Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.