Ten spots cut at schools

GLENDALE — Students seeking advice on their scholastic and professional futures may find themselves waiting longer for an appointment starting this fall, when Glendale Unified School District will see the impact of losing about a third of its counselors.

As a result of the district’s decision to eliminate 10 of its 32 middle and high school counseling positions, each remaining counselor will be responsible for serving 200 more students annually at a swollen ratio of 600 students to 1 counselor.

The move is expected to save the district $820,000.

The change will not result in any layoffs, because four counselors are retiring and others are switching to teaching positions, but some counselors on temporary work contracts may not be asked to return in the fall if the district cannot afford to keep them employed, Supt. Michael Escalante said.

Glendale Unified used to have a student-to-counselor ratio of 600-to-1, but was able to lower that number in 2006 when it received a state grant with an emphasis on special attention for struggling students.

But with the ongoing state budget crisis threatening to create a local deficit of more than $60 million by 2012 if significant actions are not taken, administrators recommended using new state flexibility options that will allow them to redistribute money allocated for specific grants in order to fund general operations.

Sweeping $820,000 from the supplemental counseling grant to the general fund will force the district to return to its pre-2006 ratios, but will help protect it from going broke, Escalante said.

Counselors understand the need to make cuts, Hoover High School counselor Kathy Frazer said, but have been confused by the administrators’ expectations and their plans for the remaining staff members.

Counselors have not been able to prepare for new job assignments and adjustments on their current campuses because they have not yet been informed of those decisions, which district officials are still making, Frazer said.

And members of the Board of Education at a meeting last week expressed hope that counselors would be able to continue offering the same amount of services to students by perhaps allocating less time for each.

Frazer was concerned that board members were misleading the community.

“They’re not being realistic,” she said. “You can’t just say ‘Work harder.’ It has to be tempered with, ‘We know we’re going to work harder, but we also are not going to be able to continue with the level of services we have in the past.’ I think that’s fair and reasonable.”

Although Escalante has suggested that counselors might be able to continue meeting with every student if they schedule meetings lasting about 20 minutes, board President Mary Boger acknowledged that the level of service students receive may not be the same.

Counselors, however, will no longer be required to fulfill all of the requirements that have been tied to the supplemental funding, like meeting with every family, she said.

“We all understand that we will not have the same luxury of time,” said Boger, adding that smaller counselor staffs might be too strained to meet those expectations since it was “highly unlikely” that the supplemental funding could be restored in the near future.

Trustees were forced to cut the counseling positions because deep state cuts are expected to put the district into a deficit as health insurance and utilities costs continue to rise, Escalante said.

“With all the ongoing increases we’ve had it’s virtually impossible to try and keep everything just as it’s been in the past,” he said. “This is survival mode right now and we’re trying to preserve jobs for people. A lot of districts would not even do this.”

 ZAIN SHAUK covers education. He may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at zain.shauk@latimes.com.

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