Parents, teachers ask San Luis Coastal to spare counselors from cuts

Teachers, students and parents continue to implore San Luis Coastal trustees to take elementary school counselors out of the planned budget cuts.

The school district must cut $4.2 million from its budget because of a growing deficit resulting from ongoing state budget cuts.

Superintendent Eric Prater is recommending that trustees cut 43 jobs to help balance the budget. Currently the district is spending 92 percent of total revenue is being spent on salaries and benefits — something administrators say has to change.

“In the end, if we don’t do budget cuts as recommended this year you’ll be chewing up reserves and leaving yourself no surpluses to work with in the future when it comes to making decisions about quality education for children,” said Russell Miller, assistant superintendent of business and support services. "We can do it, but it won't be easy, and it won't be good for kids."

Eight counselors would lose their jobs if the plan moves forward. Prater said firing the counselors would allow the district to avoid the alternative of bigger class sizes and ultimately terminating teachers.

Third-grade teacher Judy Newhouser said that even great instructional lessons will mean nothing if a student is in a constant state of anxiety.

Some board members hinted that they, too, would like to see some of the counseling jobs saved.

“We are being asked to eliminate a program without an alternative that I’m comfortable with,” said Chris Ungar, school board member. “I’m afraid we are going to have a bunch of kids in need who aren’t going to be served.”

The district has not yet come forward with a plan of how those students’ needs would be met if the elementary counselors are laid off, but said it is committed to finding a way to provide help for students who need it.

The cuts equate to $1.9 million in teaching staff, $911,633 in other personnel and about $1.4 million in programs.

The existing proposal would keep counselors at middle and high schools but increase the ratio to 480 students per counselor. Those counselors currently have 275 students.

The counselors assist students with their emotional needs and help connect them to outside services when needed.

Other cuts likely to be made include bus transportation for high school students, some custodial work at schools and the installation of Wi-Fi capabilities at the district’s two high schools.

Cuts already made include almost all summer school courses.

The district is also looking to cut in half what it pays for school resource officers.

At least two board members — President Walt Millar and Trustee Marilyn Rodger — said they would prefer to keep some counseling services and eliminate school resource officers completely if that negation does not work with contracted police departments.

“I think elementary counselors provide a greater benefit to students in danger then school resource officer on a campus,” said Rodger. “By the time they get down out of the administrative offices into where something could possibly be happening on a campus, you’ve already suffered loss,” Rodger said.