School Counselor Cuts Questioned

Christopher Peak PhotosA statewide professional association is calling into question a claim that New Haven schools will have enough school counselors after the latest wave of layoffs.

Superintendent Carol Birks said the number of counselors in New Haven’s schools will still meet national benchmarks, despite her plan to lay off 20 of them, as part of her efforts to close a $19.4 million budget deficit.

In a letter sent on Monday, the Connecticut School Counselor Association (CSCA) disputed that math and asked the Board of Education to reject Birks’s layoff plan. Virginia DeLong, the chairman of CSCA’s board of directors, argued that eliminating counselors would be a “disservice to students and families” across New Haven.

The school board is scheduled to vote to approve the layoffs of 33 full-time employees, about half of whom are school counselors, at next week’s regular meeting on Monday night at Celentano School.

Initially, the district had budgeted slots for 61 school counselors next year. Traditionally, guidance counselors sent off recommendation letters and transcripts to college, but nationwide, the role has expanded in recent years, especially in urban areas. School counselors are now expected to focus on students’ mental health, social-emotional development, home life, academic course load and career plans.

Every elementary school got one counselor, and middle schools got two. High schools had a wider range, anywhere from one at a small school like New Haven Academy to eight at a big school like Wilbur Cross. A pair roamed the district, while two more staffed Central Office.

All together, the 61 counselors’ salaries were projected to cost $4.19 million. Depending on experience, the pay ranged from $51,000 to $93,000.

The cuts that Birks has proposed will slash the counseling department down by almost one-third. Seventeen counselors were sent lay-off notices two weeks ago, and three were reassigned to teaching roles.

Caseloads Too Big?

Birks argued that the district would still meet staffing ratios set by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). ASCA states that each counselor should have a caseload of no more than 250 students. Birks reached that total by removing all K-5 students from the calculation.

But DeLong argued that that math misconstrues what the national organization intended. The staffing ratio is supposed to be applied at all levels, she said, and any calculation that excludes elementary schools is skewed.

“This is laudable but misleading,” DeLong wrote. “This means that there is the potential for elementary and/or middle school counselors to have ratios of 500+:1. With ratios this high, school counselors surely will not have the time or resources to implement comprehensive school counseling programs, leaving students without equitable access to a school counselor.”

When all students are included in the total, New Haven will have less than half the number of counselors that the organization recommends. There will be only one counselor for every 525 students, based on last year’s enrollment figures.

DeLong said that means New Haven’s counselors will be “stretched thin,” especially as they’re asked to take on extra responsibilities in schools that are already being pared down.

“In districts across the state, we have seen counselors have to take on the bulk of standardized testing duties, substituting in classrooms, and increased clerical tasks,” DeLong wrote. “Such non-counseling related activities greatly impede the direct services that school counselors are trained and prepared to provide, and careful consideration needs to be given to reassign non-counseling/indirect service tasks so they can focus on the prevention needs of all students and responsive needs of many.”

DeLong added that New Haven’s staffing ratio looks particularly slim for an urban school district, where counselors are responding to serious mental health issues, on top of looking over students’ course-loads, standardized test results and college applications.

Because a counselor’s interventions could stop bullying, outbursts or other disruptions to the learning environment, DeLong argued, it is “short-sighted” to consider counselors as removed from the classroom.

Even at higher staffing levels in recent years, higher-schoolers had already complained that a rotating, overextended staff of counselors struggled to connect with students amid long wait times for appointments.

Given the budgetary realities, Birks responded, she’ll try her best to meet the organization’s recommended staffing level at the high schools, while relying on other support services for the lower grades.

“We have to right-size and realign,” Birks said. “I respect the work of counselors. Counselors helped me on to college and throughout my career. But we have to make some pretty tough decisions to focus on the instructional core as well as our overall district improvement efforts. It’s hard, it’s very difficult and it’s sad.”

Birks also pointed out that very few districts across the country are able to meet ASCA’s bar. ‘When you look around the state, around the country, we are aligned with — and still have a lot more — than some areas,” she said. ASCA reported that only three states (Vermont, New Hampshire and Wyoming) have adequate staffing. Connecticut’s ratio was roughly 465-to-1 a few years ago, ASCA found.

Will Clark, the district’s chief operating officer, has also argued that several departments across the district are understaffed, from “special education to [English-language learning] to [information technology] to security to social work to speech to nurses and to other areas.”

While counselors are being laid off, each school will now have at least full-time social worker, which many schools did not have before, to pick up the slack, Birks said. Birks argued that her reorganization gives schools the minimum staffing necessary to meet state mandates, then allows principals to fit any additional hires to their student body’s unique needs.

“We’re looking at equity and concentration of need,” Birks said. “We’re trying to make sure we’re aligning our resources in a way which schools have requested. In some schools, we asked, ‘Did you want a full-time school counselor or a library media specialist?’ They decided. It varies by school.”

One counselor, who asked to remain anonymous, argued people don’t understood “the magnitude” of the cuts and just how “devastating” the impact could be.

“It is no surprise that the district is in financial constraints. However, what came as a surprise was the fact that 20 school counselors — in a district that has begged for more counselors — could lose their jobs,” the school counselor said. “We’re the ones who are held responsible if students are not successful in the classroom or don’t have post-high school plans. In a district with over 20,000 students who all need support; this is an injustice to them.”

Budget Too Small?

In addition to CSCA, other groups have also called for the reinstatement of school counselors. They say there’s money to keep them on the payroll by redistributing federal grants or by holding off an expansion of Central Office.

DeLong proposed using grants, including the federal Title I and Title IV-A money and the state Alliance funding, to cover some of the costs of the counseling program.

Birks said that most of those funds were tied up in other programs that could not be cut, like English-language tutors, special education experts, instructional coaches and other support roles.

“We have to look at the system at large,” she said. “It’s easy to say on the sidelines, but we need a comprehensive view.” She added that three Massachusetts-based consultants from The Management Solution will be reviewing “every funding streams to make sure we’re best utilizing what the grants were intended for and how those dollars are touching students.”

Others felt that the money should be pulled from a planned expansion of Central Office, after Meadow Street emptied out during Reggie Mayo’s return as interim superintendent.

A joint statement by NHPS Advocates and the New Haven Teacher’s Collective said that cutting counselors meant “one less person … supporting their academic, social and emotional well-being.” The groups said short-staffing the guidance department could create long wait-times and added stress for upperclassmen trying to plan out their college and career options.

The groups didn’t propose an alternative funding mechanism, but Sarah Miller, a parent at Columbus Family Academy and a member of NHPS Advocates, said any extra money should go towards keeping teachers and counselors, rather than hiring administrators.

“It’s kind of jarring to see new executive positions being filled at the same time that teachers are being laid off,” she said. “We need to prioritize the people who serve kids, not a bureaucracy.”

Birks has scaled back her plans, cutting a chief of staff, general counsel and labor relations director from the draft of her organizational chart. And she still might not fill some of the roles that the board approved, relying for example on the consultants and a part-time budget director, in place of a full-time chief financial officer.

But even without those roles, Birks said she needs some support, arguing that she can’t manage the district by herself. “We have a very lean Central Office,” she said. “We need to run the system.”

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posted by: NHPLEB on August 7, 2018  5:39pm

Counselors in NH want to be called “SCHOOL COUNSELORS” ; not guidance counselors.  They keep transcript records,  academic credits,  and college application records.  They are no longer officially supposed to “counsel”  students. They do not deal with troubles of students unless they find it in their hearts to do so and they often do.  But that is going beyond their new role.  That is what the social worker is for.  Let’s get our job description straight before we rehire them.

And heck;  if no one is laid off , how are we supposed to address deficit?  You can’t have it both ways,  people.  Keeping staff and cuttting costs=  it doesn’t add up…....

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on August 7, 2018  6:21pm

All these cuts are shocking and intolerable.
The general public watches the BOE make major decisions about the future education of our youth, and it appears that their slogan must be changed from “KIDS FIRST” to KIDS LAST.”
Parents and students are shocked because all the proposed staff cuts are apparently teachers, guidance counselors, school librarians, and gym teachers. Why were there no proposed cuts of top administrative staff positions? BOE members say they want to cut as far away from the students and classrooms as possible. If that’s what they said then why these layoffs of those who have direct and daily contact with students?
This makes no sense!!!
When the superintendent took this position, the job description was posted and all candidates were aware of the current administrative bureaucratic set up.
A few months into the job, now the superintendent says she can’t manage the district by herself! There is currently a superfluous number of administrators and assistants at Gateway. Most have a meaningful job. Some don’t, but Dr. Birks doesn’t work by herself unless she wants to.
She has requested several new or unfilled positions that were not in place prior to taking the job. In light of the current financial crisis and with the closure of several schools, why should the city sacrifice serving the needs of students for a deputy superintendent and 3-4 assistant superintendents, plus other positions? Cut the fat
A few of those positions may be important, but are they necessary RIGHT NOW?
How many of our parents went without, sacrificed their wants to provide for their children’s NEEDS?
That is what the BOE needs to do!
Why should schools have to decide whether they get a counselor or a librarian, or a teacher or a nurse? THEY NEED ALL THAT AND MORE!
A 525:1 ratio of students to guidance counselor is a ridiculous premise! It is a disservice to our kids to consider it! Months ago students and parents requested MORE counselors not less! This is an insult.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on August 7, 2018  6:47pm

Continued.
No guidance counselor should be forced to work under those type of overwhelming conditions. No student in need of help, advice or direction should be forced to wait weeks or months to meet with their guidance counselor. The effectiveness of counseling so many students will be minimized. The kids will be shortchanged. The counselors will be stressed out beyond measure trying to meet certain requirements and deadlines, especially in dealing with juniors and seniors preparing to enter colleges.
If the BOE decides to approve these guidance counselor cuts, maybe the counselors should petition the BOE to provide each one with a “deputy” counselor and one or more “assistant” counselors so that these hard-working men and women do not feel that they will not be able to manage their 500+ students all by themselves!
That is mere sarcasm.
This really is not a time for sarcasm. The education of our kids is serious business. The right decisions must be made to provide the best for them. We should not settle for anything less.
Cut from the top before you ever THINK of cutting from the bottom of this over-bloated educational bureaucracy.
BOE, our eyes are watching you! Parents are monitoring you! The students have a sense that they are not THE top priority as they hear of fewer teachers, fewer guidance counselors, loss of full-time librarians and other support staff.
The BOE had better take a pause and count the costs of the decisions they may make! The RIGHT investments in our kids’ education with adequate teaching and counseling staff will pay the highest dividends! A bloated bureaucracy benefits no one in need of the best quality education!

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on August 7, 2018  8:15pm

>>> “Birks said she needs some support, arguing that she can’t manage the district by herself.”

It is indeed simply amazing how Dr. Mayo managed to run the whole district all by himself.

posted by: 1644 on August 7, 2018  8:16pm

By my reckoning, the BoE still has about $10 million more to cut, after the school closures and these layoffs. So, yes, some central office staff will need to go, but in addition to, not instead of, these layoffs.

posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on August 7, 2018  10:17pm

@Jill_the_Pill,

If think that Dr. Mayo did not have help in this job, you’re not allowing yourself to be reasonable. 

Rev. Ross-Lee

posted by: dad101 on August 7, 2018  10:51pm

DR BIRKS fails to recognize how valuable counselors are to students she has absolutely no problem with hiring a multitude of yes people in and around her office It is an insult to say children come first when you yourself arent willing to limit the number of admins supporting you ! let see you cut 1/3 of your staff and be successful! You cant! ....that’s right the children dont come first!  as a parent and tax payer it is becoming increasingly difficult to support your autonomy and ideas when they are even less student directed than the mayors. As parents we make decisions how to manage a budget that doesnt have enough zeros..when we neglect to give our children what they NEED social services is called…What you’re advocating deserves the same. Lets see the adults on meadow st do more with less. We’ve been fighting for amore counselors becasue we didnt have enough to begin with.No one wants to hear you tell us how valuable counselors were 30 years plus ago to you. Times have changed the work is different.  many of the students dont have external resources as you did to help them find their way. Counselors are it. They have to know the child to write letters of recommendations that are true and forthright.. if theyonly see the student once or twice per year ,they dont know them.They have to know the child has family members in crisis to navigate what resources student needs, you need to know childs fears of what may happen if they dont get paper work submitted. Principles have been stepping in to help get letters written, dead lines met nurturing done..you havent done much observing if you didnt see that we need more not less.Coffee and is not what we need . we need you to start with cleaning and trimming from the adults support staff and fulfilling the Needs of educators and students not your former coworkers and sorrors

posted by: NHPS4KidsFirst on August 7, 2018  10:54pm

NHPLEP- pls get your facts straight before commenting in a public forum so as not to perpetuate ignorance. NH School counselors actually service the social-emotional needs of students in a tremendous capacity. They are almost exclusively responsible for meeting the social-emotional needs of the General Ed. population at ALL grade levels across the district. Yes, our social workers do a great job of addressing the social-emotional needs of our students as well, but their caseloads are almost exclusively comprised of special education students as their job descriptions dictate that they must service SpEd students per their IEP hours and conduct evaluations, which in our district, comprises the bulk of their work. They are already over extended and can’t even meet the needs of the sped students on their caseloads as is.
Who services the Social-emotional and behavioral needs of the Gen Ed populations (in additional to special populations) the vast majority of the time?... SCHOOL COUNSELORS!
I agree with you on one thing— it is imperative that we get the job descriptions correct and that we have an accurate understanding of the role of school counselors in our district. They provide a vital and indespensible role in our schools—one, which if eliminated, will have a detrimental impact on ALL NH students, who are in dire need of mental health support. School counselors not only facilitate the academic and career development of students, they also implement comprehensive school counseling programs that foster the development of social skills, effective communication, conflict resolution skills, collaboration, explicitly teach social-emotional learning, self-regulation & self-management skills. Understand that school counselors must have a minimal of a masters degree in order to become certified, most of whom have been trained as mental health counselors and are more than capable of meeting the social-emotional needs of students across their development.

posted by: Sarah.Miller on August 7, 2018  10:57pm

The Management Solution agreement, which advanced at Monday’s Finance and Operations meeting, carries a $90k price tag for five months of work. From the agreement:

“The services to be performed by the Contractor shall consist of the following tasks as more detailed in Exhibit A attached hereto and incorporated herein by reference.
A. Budget development and preparation
B. All aspects of financial management and reporting
C. Support for grants and other supplemental funding sources management
D. Supervision and assistance in the completion of any required financial reports.
E. Assist the Superintendent, administration, and board of education in managing the school resources and providing accurate reporting.”
http://www.nhps.net/sites/default/files/FO080618.pdf

Does this replace the district’s CFO? Can these tasks not be performed by any current staff?

posted by: middle on August 8, 2018  12:18am

@Jill, I hope you are being facetious.

Setting aside how erroneous it is to claim that Dr. Mayo ran the district by himself (remember the Chief of Staff, multiple assistant Superintendents, Chief Operating Officer, Directors of Instruction, Director of Assessment, Director of Student Services, Content Supervisors…), could you claim that Dr. Mayo ran the district well and set the district up for success?

Did the current deficit come from Birks or was it the man who ran the district for 20 years while building 30 new schools and granting himself a larger and larger salary while literacy and graduation rates were in the tank.

posted by: NHPLEB on August 8, 2018  7:58am

Dear NHPS4KidsFirst— my facts are straight.  Guidance counselors who do counsel are going above and beyond but they have been told that their primary job is to push paper for students. Hence the name change.  Check out my claim,  if you doubt.  I got it from a guidance counselor.  You can use your own sources.  Having said that,  I agree with your claim that a real guidance counselor is an essential part of a school team but it is in the role that you and I look for that is crucial.  Paper pushing is needed but not by a trained counselor!  A clerk could record credits and college applications.

These cuts are going to hurt in so many ways but the big shots are ensconced on Meadow St and they will not be moved.  Do you see any principals/asst principals laid off? Check the cubicles on Meadow St . Instructional coaches in HS are not moving to the classroom and they mostly do gopher and clerical work for the admins.  Those coaches who actually want to support teachers are few and they do as they are told or they will find themselves…. gasp… back in the classroom. 

If you want to help,  get ahold of the BOE budget and explain where the money is going. They won’t allow an independent auditor to look at the books—-  wonder why?

posted by: ShadowBoxer on August 8, 2018  8:41am

As a private citizen involved in education, I have been appalled at this inequity and looked into creative solutions.  This seems to be the rub: the guidance counselor serves two dual roles, the first of which is to facilitate admission to higher ed or carer plans (arrange and edit essays, and letters of rec) and the second of which seems to be a de facto social worker.  As such, this latter role requires licensure, and/or certification.  If the certification issue were bifurcated or removed, one could have volunteer counselors, retirees, former teachers etc.  But obviously if the guidance counselor is providing mental health counseling they would need training.  Yet the bottom line is New Haven is opting for less counselors, rather than uncertified ones.  This again is big government regulation impeding problem solving.

This illustrates a bigger economic problem, which is that entry into the middle class is shrinking, because industries want monopolies on entry.  Just about every profession, from real estate agent, to interior decorator, to barber, requires a license now.  This a huge barrier, and when white working class voters, or any working class voters complain about lack of economic opportunity, this obsession with licenses and certification is a hidden barrier.  CT actually is obsessed with making everyone get a license, when in fact they are not always needed. 

I know these are two diff issues, but they are intertwined.  The bottom line is kids will suffer, because New Haven prefers no counselors, or fewer, to more counselors, without licenses.  At the end of the day, the “public option” is not always the “best option,” just like a book on loan from New Haven Free Public Library may have a ding or stain, but no one tells me I am not allowed to borrow the book at all because it isn’t pristine. Again, we see lack of creativity on behalf our leaders.  It is old school, top heavy, regulation heavy which is bankrupting the state and city.

posted by: NHPLEB on August 8, 2018  8:51am

Dear Shadow Boxer,  your description of the dual roles of counselors is on the mark.  Paper pushing is easier and anyone with clerical skills can probably do it. Hence the licensing need for a real counselor.

But I disagree with you on licensure.  I’ll have my doctor,  CPA, hairdresser,  etc.  licensed.  That is no guarantee of excellence but it does go a ways toward competence and accountability.  If you want to go to someone who is “really good”  at something but never got a license/certificate, you can do so but I think most folks would go with accreditation if they can.  Mounds of bureaucracy and overkill of regs can be eased but unlicensed/unregulated/unaccountable practitioners of   X?  No, thanks.

posted by: 1644 on August 8, 2018  9:21am

shadow & NHPLEB:  Worse than licensure is the conspiracy of the educational-industrial complex and Democrats to raise educational requirements for professions, increasing entry costs, but putting more money in the pockets of Democrat supporting academics.  We see this with the requirement of a master’s degree for teachers. There is no evidence that a masters makes teachers more effective.  Since everyone needs one, schools like Southern set their standards low enough that everyone can get one.  The best schools, i.e., independent schools, don’t require it, nor they they require certification.  TFA teachers have only 4 year degrees, yet outperform many career teachers. But requiring master’s degrees means more jobs for education professors at heavily tax-supported teachers colleges like Southern, so legislatures require them. 
  Similarly, Obamacare pretty much eliminated the market for hospital trained, diploma Registered Nurses.  Physical Therapy used to be a four degree, and is now an expensive “doctorate”, as is pharmacy. Okay, off my soapbox, now.

posted by: Jill_the_Pill on August 8, 2018  9:26am

>>> “@Jill, I hope you are being facetious.”

Of course I am.  My point is that Dr. Birks has all those people at her disposal as well, and it’s silly of her to suggest otherwise.

posted by: ShadowBoxer on August 8, 2018  11:37am

More than one in three jobs now requires a permission slip from the government.  This is driving down wages, because market demands should in part help determine wages, not plutocrat bureaucrats.  This is causing a situation where there are more open jobs than workers to fill them, for the first time in US history.  Try telling a middle aged Uber driver that companies cannot find enough “qualified” workers.  Again we aren’t talking about brain surgeons, but landscape architects, make-up artists and dog catchers. 

One way to remedy this is to adopt sunset provisions for licensure requirements, like Washington, Arizona and Indiana, all business friendly states.  Connecticut politicians are using the guise of “consumer protection” to freeze the majority of otherwise qualified people out of the labor market.  Connecticut is dead last in job growth, and number one in licensing requirements.  We are also the most “educated” state, yet one in three educated workers lacks the precise permission slip signed by Nanny State protecting me from my participation in the free market. 

Instead of obsessing about “free college” for all elected leaders should remove barriers to market participation.  This would be a shot in the arm for the lower and middle classes for sure.

posted by: ShadowBoxer on August 8, 2018  12:59pm

@1644

You are right on the money.  And more and more occupational licenses require criminal background checks, credit checks, even DMV checks, to make sure that one’s driving record “comports with the values of the profession.”  This is beyond insane, because a mere blip in one of the databases locks out the poor and others who have made mistakes at one time or another in areas of their past life like driving or managing personal finances.  We are supposed to create a culture of second chances and redemption, but the average Joe is haunted forever because of personal mistakes.  For a George W. Bush with DUIs, he can run for president and have his brother help steal the election.  If he is trying to get a license to say, drive a bus for SCSU ten years later, he will be passed over.  He can have access to the nuclear codes, but not the keys to the SCSU van.

Occupational licensing should not inquire too heavily into the personal lives of its applicants.  It is one think to be on the Sex Offender Registry, and quite another to miss a bill or two, file for bankruptcy at one time, or have a traffic infraction.  This is another devious way to create barriers to being a productive citizen and reaching one’s full potential.

posted by: WildwildWestEducator on August 8, 2018  6:00pm

1644

As a career educator, I am offended that you feel a TFA teacher with no training could out teach me with my education degrees and training.  The TFA teachers I have seen have only lasted 3 years, if that, because they are paid for their masters degrees or law school,etc. Those teachers are wholly unprepared to be teachers. How many do you know that have taught 5 or 10 years or more? As for the Democratic machine, please take a look at the education departments, schools are actually losing education professors because no one wants to go into education. The GOP has a Education secretary who knows nothing about education and can’t improve education at all.

School Counselors are an important part of schools, years ago, when there were no K-8 schools, Counselors were just at middle and high schools and lower elementary teachers did their own grades. But times have changed and so have the students. Unfortunately, even with this set of layoffs, more is going to have to be done to close the gap.

posted by: 1644 on August 8, 2018  9:28pm

Wild: Of course you are offended, you have a personal stake in the issue.
https://www.teachforamerica.org/about-us/our-work/research
https://www.teachforamerica.org/about-us/our-work/research
As far as the longevity of TFA teachers, the model is a missionary one, not a career one.  The program is designed to get very smart people into classrooms for two or more years before they go to professional school.  It is very much the model that many of the best secondary schools use.  I don’t believe Hopkins & Choate require any specific training or credential.  Choate has its own apprenticeship program.  Of course, the teachers’ colleges were created because the elite schools were not producing enough teachers.

posted by: Russia Exit Crimea on August 8, 2018  9:29pm

In some cases, the kids trust the counselors more than their parents. Also some counselors can detect if someone is dealing with too much stress.

posted by: ActualNHPSteacher on August 8, 2018  9:33pm

It is getting very scary at NHPS. First, the Library Media Specialists, now Guidance Counselors? Who is next? Who will be left to teach the students? As a New Haven teacher I’ve always known how to stretch any and all resources. But you can’t get blood from a stone. School is starting soon and what we’ll have is more;  “make due with nothing” and while you’re at it don’t forget to raise those Common Core scores, or to help every student reach grade level proficiency, while you differentiate your instruction to fit the needs of all your 27 students. Our students and our teachers, will make due, as usual. And isn’t that a shame. If NHPS was a corporation they would have gone under years ago due to mismanagement from above.

posted by: NHPLEB on August 8, 2018  9:52pm

NH teacher….. It’s make DO; not make due. Your other statements are on the mark

posted by: ActualNHPSteacher on August 9, 2018  7:57am

Thanks for the spellcheck. I’m usually a meticulous self editor. That one got by me.

posted by: wendy1 on August 9, 2018  9:09am

Expect more misery and more crime as our damaged youth are neglected and ignored.  Society will pay the price with a rise in sociopathy and psychopathy.