San Luis Coastal Unified School District should avoid loss of elementary counselors

To keep district solvent, other positions should be cut first

letters@thetribunenews.comApril 14, 2013 

We agree that the San Luis Coastal Unified School District has no choice but to severely reduce programs and personnel, given the magnitude of state budget cuts.

But there is one proposed cut that many parents and teachers are finding especially tough to take: the loss of eight counselors at the elementary schools.

We join them in urging the district to reconsider.

Students who are struggling in elementary school — whether its with learning difficulties, bullying, low self-esteem or isolation — can become so discouraged that going to class is a daily nightmare. That, in turn, can affect entire families.

And while counselors are going to be retained at the middle schools and high schools, by then it can be much harder to reach traumatized students.

For those reasons, we strongly urge the district to find a way to keep an elementary counseling program intact, either by retaining at least some counselors on staff or partnering with other agencies to provide on-site counseling services — or perhaps a combination of both.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there won’t be other, equally painful cuts. There will be, and we wish they could be avoided.

For example, elimination of transportation to and from the high schools — a service used by 400 students — is something we never thought we would see.

We recognize, though, that the district cannot continue to live beyond its means. For the past few years, it’s been tapping reserves to preserve programs, in the hope that the state would restore funding as the economy recovers.

That’s not going to happen; the state is restructuring the way it finances schools in order to equalize levels of funding among districts. That’s leaving some basic aid districts such as San Luis Coastal — districts that derive most of their funding from property taxes — with less state revenue.

Going forward, officials at San Luis Coastal expect to lose at least $4.5 million per year — and that’s not counting the $11 million already lost.

Superintendent Eric Prater described it like this: “In short order, San Luis Coastal will need to establish its educational model based almost entirely on one source of revenue: local property taxes. This will need to become our new normal.”

So here’s the bottom line: San Luis Coastal cannot continue to deplete reserves. Nor can it look to other stop-gap measures, such as worker furloughs, to subsidize programs it can no longer afford.

As much as we hate the idea of losing bus transportation or librarians or reading specialists, if that’s what the district must do to remain solvent, we’ll support the administration and school board in its decisions.

But please, don’t gut the counseling program at the elementary schools. For many students, that’s as fundamental to success as access to health care, a decent diet and a safe place to sleep at night.

We strongly urge the school board to find a way to ensure that students of all ages will continue to have access to trained counselors.

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