County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to pledge $4.75 million to a mental health initiative over the next five years aimed at providing students with mental health services.
Though commissioners didn’t identify a funding source during the meeting, Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said he hoped to use American Rescue Plan Act dollars or county money earmarked for mental health initiatives.
Commissioners also allocated another $3.9 million to cover jail deputies’ overtime pay between May and September; this is the fifth time the sheriff has requested overtime pay in fiscal year 2021, bringing the total spent on overtime to $12.4 million.
Boosting student mental health
Marc Mendiola, who is about to start his second year at Texas A&M University in College Station, drove to San Antonio with the sole purpose of asking commissioners to approve funding for the San Antonio Mobile Mental Wellness Collaborative, which is comprised of six nonprofits that banded together to serve his alma mater of South San Independent School District after students there lobbied for mental health support.
“It is important to get these services to the younger generation because it really does impact how well they do in an educational setting,” 20-year-old Mendiola told commissioners.
The additional funding from Bexar County will help the mental health collaborative expand its offerings and bring its free services to the students, families, teachers, and administrators of other school districts. It has already expanded from South San to offer services in Harlandale and Edgewood ISDs.
“We are here not because we were invited by the schools, not because we requested to be in the schools, but because the children of those schools asked us and demanded those schools to provide services to them,” Rise Recovery CEO Evita Morin said. “And we are just so honored and grateful to be able to respond to that request.”
Along with Rise Recovery, the collaborative partners include Jewish Family Service of San Antonio, Family Service Association, Clarity Child Guidance Center, Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas, and Communities in Schools of San Antonio.
Mendiola was part of the original student group who advocated for mental health resources in his district, which led to a student mental health center opening in South San ISD.
So many students in South San and other low-income communities shoulder extra burdens, he said, such as caring for younger siblings while parents work late or having to find and pay for their own mental health care without the assistance of an adult. Those burdens stretch them thin and sap their ability to perform well in other aspects of their life.
He called the services provided by the collective in just its first few years nothing short of “amazing.”
Rodriguez said the vote reinforces the court’s commitment “to making sure that mental health issues — in particular this program for our youth — are addressed,” he said, asking staff to find funding either through the county’s existing partnership with University Health or with federal stimulus dollars.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores, who brought the funding request to commissioners, said supporting young Bexar County residents’ mental health is crucial to their success in life.
“This is part of breaking the school to prison pipeline,” she said. “Instead of pushing millions of dollars into our jails, we need to put more money on what I call the front end: on children’s mental health.”
Rising jail overtime costs
Later in the meeting, commissioners dealt with the costs of overcrowding at the Bexar County Detention Center, and it was clear they weren’t happy about it. Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff chided Sheriff Javier Salazar for the extent of the overtime hours and suggested a third party look at his overtime requests.
“We think your overtime is way beyond where it should be,” Wolff said. “We do analysis of it, but obviously you’re not gonna believe us. So if we had an independent view of it, I think that would help.”
With the jail population currently topping 4,000 inmates each day, commissioners approved $3.9 million for detention deputies’ overtime pay. That will cover an estimated 96,170 overtime hours the department estimates it will incur from the end of May through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. The total overtime for fiscal year 2021 is now $3.5 million more than originally budgeted.
Precint 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry, who has butted heads with Salazar over spending before, also proposed hiring an outside consultant, in this case to help figure out the sheriff’s office staffing problems.
“I don’t pretend to be a law enforcement expert,” she said. “I can tell you from the private sector, if I were operating a business like this, I would not be in business anymore. But I understand it is the environment in which we live, so I’m just saying, I would like to be able to get you some help.”
Salazar said he was “totally on board” with hiring a consultant, but would like to see one to help with the jail issues specifically and another to help with recruiting and retaining deputies.
“How do we get in front of those millennials that crave technology and make a job like this palatable to them?” he asked.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the correct name of the San Antonio Mobile Mental Wellness Collaborative.