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District cuts worry counselor-supporting parents 

Parents and teachers packed the room to greet members of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District board as they met on April 23 to approve final revisions to the 2013-14 proposed budget, delivering a list of program reductions and lay-offs.

After originally planning to make deep cuts in February in order to close a $6 million budget deficit, the district adjusted the proposed budget to retain some positions after hearing input from parents, teachers, and other district staff. The superintendent ultimately recommended a $4.2 million reduction that included reducing planned wi-fi installation, summer school programs, and professional development, as well as eliminating upward of 50 staff and teaching positions, both part and full time. Among those lay-offs are librarians, elementary and secondary school counselors, bus drivers, and operational and support staff, instructional coaches, a few high school and English language teachers, and a district office administrative position.

The proposal includes five new positions, however: a preschool teacher, three library technicians, and a library coordinator to replace the loss of all but one full-time certified librarian.

While there were many cuts involved in the district’s updated proposal, much of the public comment and the concerns of the roughly 200 attendees focused on the loss of counselors.

“We can see that counselors not only have one duty, but numerous tasks and projects, all with the goal of helping support and guide the students so they can have a better future,” read a letter signed by 70 parents at C.L. Smith Elementary School that was presented in English by Kayla Campa, a third-grade teacher at the school, and in Spanish by Maribel Chavez, a teacher and counselor at the school, whose counseling position will likely be cut.

While all positions were planned to be cut, the district managed to keep the sum of two full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions, which may mean three or more counselors working among the district’s 10 elementary schools. Because of seniority rules, there are concerns that none of the counselors retained will be bilingual.

“This is hard for me to look at my former colleagues and to look at the parents and say we have to make these cuts,” said retired Morro Bay High School teacher Jim Quesenberry, district trustee and board clerk, noting that the alternative on the table “doesn’t totally gut elementary counseling.”

The crowd in the room was enthusiastic during public comment, waving bright green signs reading “SUPPORT OUR KIDS BY VOTING YES TO ELEMENTARY COUNSELORS,” but a grim air loomed as district trustees shared their regrets before stating an intent to support the superintendent’s recommendation prior to a vote. In the end, the plan was approved unanimously, 7-0.

The new budget will eliminate nine elementary school counselors, totaling eight FTEs, saving roughly $432,500; and five FTE secondary school counselors, saving just shy of $358,000. In addition, eight bus drivers and operation service workers, a total of 6.75 FTEs, will be cut, as will a driver instructor and a dispatcher, saving just more than $500,000.

The reduction in bus routes and the increase in fees for students riding the bus was another concern among speakers, who again highlighted that children already struggling will be those getting the short end of the stick from the employee reductions. Julio Mora, secretary of the District English Learners Advisory Committee, spoke through a translator to sum up worries he’d heard from parents: “If we don’t provide transportation, children will be left behind. Without transportation, they won’t be able to get to school. If they don’t get to school, how will the counselor be able to help them?”

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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