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Seattle school counselors slam district over cuts

Gabriel Spitzer

Seattle school counselors say they’re getting hit harder than ever by budget cuts, and a pack of them turned out at Wednesday’s school board meeting to protest the latest round of layoffs.

It all stems from a change three years ago to how Seattle Public Schools funds counselors in elementary schools. The district stopped paying for them as regular employees, and instead gave schools a choice: use your discretionary money, or let them go. Now, almost two thirds of elementary schools don’t have a counselor, and the district has sent pink slips to a dozen counselors at middle-and high schools.

A loss for students

Carrie Richard is being laid off from Ingraham High School after eight years there, and she said without counselors, students will lose the ongoing support crucial to staying on the right track.

“I have seen how busy teachers are with the demands that they have. There is no way they can be anything but reactive when a crisis occurs or if a student is dealing with issues at home or doesn’t know how they’re going to get dinner that night, and it’s just really disruptive,” Richard said.

The counselors cited researchshowing quality counseling can improve students’ grades, as well as social and emotional well being.

Hard decisions

District officials said they’re trying to cope with tight budgets without directly hitting classroom learning. Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Paul Apostle said the policy leaves it up to schools to set their own priorities.

“You know, we’re allowing the staff to make the decisions on how they want to build their program,” said Apostle. But he added, “I think it would be important to take another look at what types of services we provide at a minimum level for our students.”

Apostle says administrators may revisit the loss of school counselors, but he doesn’t know when.

Note: An on-air version of this story incorrectly identified counselor David Bilides as having received a layoff notice. In fact, a different counselor at his school has been laid off.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.