With “social and emotional” difficulties among students a continuing concern, Ridgefield High School is seeking to add another social worker to its staff as part of the 2020-21 school budget.

“In 2018-19 we had twenty-two 211 calls,” RHS Principal Stacey Gross said, referring to situations where students may be in danger of harming themselves or others.

“We had twelve 911-calls for social and emotional needs,” she added.

The high school also had 46 calls with the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) and 35 home visits following up on DCF concerns in 2018-19, the last full academic year.

Roughly half way through the current 2019-20 year, Gross said, the high school has had six 211 calls, one 911 call, 16 DCF calls and 10 home visits.

“So, we need another social worker,” Dr. Gross said — there is currently one. “The social worker really manages and oversees mental health.”

Gross presented her 2020-21 proposed Ridgefield High School budget at the Board of Education’s Jan. 21 meeting, seeking $14,405,715 for the coming year, which would be a $564,473 or 4.08% increase over the current year’s RHS budget of $13,841,242.

Budget process

The high school budget is part of Interim Superintendent JeanAnn Paddyfote’s $102 million requested school budget for 2020-21, a proposed 4.11% spending increase.

Two public hearings are planned — on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 10 a.m. in Scotts Ridge Middle School, and Monday, Feb. 10, at 7 p.m. in the school board meeting room of the Town Hall annex.

Paddyfote’s budget for the school system seeks just under 480 “certified” positions — teachers, principals, guidance counselors, librarians. The budget calls also calls for nearly 255 “non-certified” positions, ranging from nurses and therapists to custodians and technology specialists.

The school board may modify and then approve the superintendent’s budget, before sending it on to the Board of Finance, which will possibly change and then approve a final proposed school budget to be sent to town voters at the annual budget referendum in May.

The current 2019-20 kindergarten-through- 12th grade enrollment in the Ridgefield Public Schools is 4,627. That is projected to decline to 4,559 next year, in 2020-21, according to an enrollment study presented by the consulting firm Milone and MacBroom on Nov. 12, 2019.

The new social worker position, budgeted at a salary of $60,000, actually appears in the “pupil personnel services” budget, pushing that department’s complement of social workers from 1.1 positions to 2.1 positions.

That’s within a K-12 pupil personnel staff of almost 55 positions that includes 16 psychologists, 15 nurses, 14 middle school and high school counselors.

“The high school has not requested any major staff there in four to five years,” Gross said.

Other than the social worker position, the RHS budget proposes to keep staff levels the same from this year to next. The budget proposes 118 “full time equivalent” teaching positions — called “FTEs” — for a school projected to have 1,582 students next year, down 48 students from a population of 1,630 last year.

Assistant principals

Board members had asked what the high school’s four assistant principals do. They are part of an RHS team of six full-time administrators, including the principal and the athletics director.

Among the assistant principals’ most time-consuming duties are attending the Planning and Placement Team (PPT) meetings for students who are in special education at the high school.

Last year the four assistant principals attended 496 PPTs, and half way through this year they’ve attended 290 PPTs.

They’re also responsible for handling “safe school climate” and “bullying” incidents, and these are often not simple matters.

“Each investigation can take days,” Dr. Gross said.

And each assistant principal is responsible for evaluating 34 to 40 teachers — with two or three classroom observations required for each evaluation, she said.

There are also duties after the bell rings.

“We are all at after-school events — dances, proms, plays, athletic events, concerts,” Dr. Gross said of the administrators. “It’s clear that’s important to parents.”