Prince George's smallest schools may have to share guidance counselors
Proposal would save county $1M, leave some schools with part-time positions
Some Prince George's County guidance counselors could lose their jobs in the fall, while others might be forced to take on additional duties to make up for the vacancies.
The county's proposed education budget for fiscal 2012 would eliminate 12 full-time and one part-time guidance position at the county's 25 smallest elementary schools, said Karyn Lynch, the county's chief officer of student services. The move would save the county $1 million, and require the 12.5 remaining counselors to split their duties between two schools.
The proposal is one of many possible cuts in the county's projected $1.69 billion education budget. County school board members harshly criticized the proposal at a meeting Thursday in Upper Marlboro.
"Guidance counselors in very small schools are just as important as guidance counselors in larger schools," said board member Rosalind Johnson (Dist. 1) of Laurel. "Sharing seems like it works; it actually doesn't. Somebody gets left [behind]."
Lynch said the proposal would affect the 25 county elementary schools whose enrollments are less than 350 students, essentially giving them all part-time counselors. She acknowledged that the cuts would be especially difficult on the small schools, considering they have already lost their assistant principal positions due to past budget cuts.
The loss of assistant principals, she said, has forced many counselors to pick up many administrative duties in addition their usual academic and personal counseling.
"The guidance counselors in elementary schools are for many of our schools extremely vital," Lynch said. "They're the go-to people. They analyze data, they talk to parents, they talk to students, they stop bullying."
Several board members said they were concerned about the impact the cuts would have given that they are occurring so soon after other cuts in in-school personnel, including eliminations last year of all but 43 of the county's more than 200 parent liaisons, personnel who provide assistance to parents navigating the school system.
Lynch declined to estimate the likelihood of the guidance cuts, but said school officials will have a much better idea of their likelihood after seeing how much help the schools received from projected state and countywide budgets. County Schools Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. estimated in December that county schools could face an $89 million budget shortfall even after proposed cuts, such as the elimination of middle school sports depending upon how much county and state assistance they receive.
Theresa Saunders, president of the county Council of PTAs, said she believes guidance programs should be restructured to include more technology and software to help students identify career and academic goals, but that in-school personnel cuts should be avoided.
"The elementary school years are still very critical in getting children onto the right track," she said. "People may need more training, but direct services to students, we don't want that cut back."