Seven months have passed since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but its ghost still hovers in San Mateo County — especially now that safety hawks are jockeying for parts of a budget surplus projected to come this fall.
The references to the shooting in Newtown, Conn., abounded at the Board of Supervisors meeting last week as county officials discussed a slew of proposals to prevent school shootings in their own domain.
Among them were two recommendations from County Manager John Maltbie, who has been spearheading the school safety campaign. The first was to install two deputy sheriffs at local schools, at a $473,219 tab per year. The second appealed for about $9 million in Measure A tax revenue — $3,989,139 this fiscal year, $5,325,874 in 2014-15 — to bolster programs for at-risk youths. That rather amorphous group includes kids with childhood traumas or mental illnesses, most of whom require a constellation of social services to keep them from backsliding, Maltbie says. He thinks it's best to target them early, and the best people to do that are teachers.
Though the county has a history of interagency collaborations that help divert kids into social services, the county still lacks resources for "children who stand at the precipice of, but have not yet fallen into, special education, the child welfare system or criminal activity," Maltbie wrote in a memo to county supervisors.
In light of Sandy Hook and other public calamities, he and other political leaders have grown increasingly bullish about prevention. They want to identify mental illness early and triage problems long before they erupt.
With Measure A likely to add $60 million annually to the county's coffers, Maltbie is hoping to boost parent training, outpatient mental health services and early-onset bipolar intervention. He'd also like to launch a support hotline to provide kids and families with easy access to services. He wants to recast local schoolteachers as "front-line defenders" against the next Sandy Hook incident and ensure that it doesn't happen in San Mateo County.
"They see these children six to seven hours a day in school," Maltbie told the Board of Supervisors. "They can identify problems and know what resources are available."
Data released by the County Manager's Office helped corroborate some of Maltbie's fears, even if risk is difficult to measure. A coalition of family service and juvenile justice agencies projected that 15 youths will be screened and treated for bipolar disorder between 2014 and 2015, and an additional 40 will be referred to home-visit programs because of a high-risk parent.
The agencies banded together to form a Children and Youth System of Care committee that will oversee the at-risk funds program. In the coming year they'll collect data on everything from expulsion rates to hotline calls. They might even adopt a "field crisis team" model to monitor adults as well as children.