Even while wrestling with a budget in which spending is still outpacing revenue, during its regular meeting last Thursday evening, Mammoth Unified School District’s Board of Education opted to hold off on cutting a counselor position, at least for the foreseeable future.
The agenda item, submitted by former Superintendent Rich Boccia, who had tendered his resignation from the post the night before, involved whether to approve an Intention to Dismiss a Certificated Employee, namely Kelley Jayne, on the grounds of elimination of a “particular kind of service.”
According to the agenda bill, MUSD would need to show that the service, in this case one of two MUSD counselors, is being eliminated and won’t be performed in a different manner at the beginning of next school year. That automatically triggered some pushback from both concerned parents, and the Board. BOE member Jack Farrell suggested pink-slipping Jayne runs counter to the agenda bill’s terms, in that Jayne’s job duties would likely be shifted over to Classified staff.
With MUSD’s budget running in the red roughly $670,000 this fiscal year and perhaps $1 million next fiscal year, the Board is looking for every penny of savings it can find. On the other hand, most BOE members seemed reluctant to make cuts specifically in counseling. “We’re here to cut the budget, but this is not a wise cut,” Farrell opined.
Both counselor positions, including salaries and benefits, cost MUSD between $150,000 and $200,000 annually. The cut would have amounted to savings of about $80,000, according to Boccia’s bill. MUSD Administrative Assistant Kathy Emerick added that the District couldn’t supplant the position using a Classified employee, and that there is a 39-month recall option that, if Jayne were still available and funding could be secured, would give Jayne first right of refusal for a reinstated position. Most on the Board, however, weren’t so sure that the position could be reinstated anytime soon, if it were at all; once it’s gone, it’s hard to get back, Farrell noted.
Parent Connie Moyer said she wasn’t in favor of eliminating the position, and called into question how this would impact the spending of $640,000 in annual Measure S dollars, which could be used to fund the positions. MUSD can spend those dollars any way it sees fit.
Student Melanie Boyer wrote an impassioned letter to the BOE, advocating the need for a counselor and highlighting several unnamed students she said have personally benefitted from those services. The young Boyer eloquently indicated that, “Most safety and education problems [likely] come from within.”
That brought up a clash between the District’s stated priority of “achieving and sustaining financial stability” and its mission statement clause of achieving “a balance of social, emotional and physical development.” Board President Betty Kittle said she thinks safety issues are tied to socio-emotional student development concerns. “I can’t support this [bill],” she stated.
Another sticking point was the counselors per student ratio disparity that firing Jayne would leave MUSD stuck with. Not surprisingly, the Association of California School Administrators recommends one counselor for every 250 students, an ideal that MUSD with its ~1,200 students cannot hope to achieve. But even the state’s recommendation of one counselor for each 810 students struck Kittle as “way too many” students for two counselors, let alone one. “My problem is we are being asked to cut counselor services, when we should be increasing them,” she said.
Board member Shana Stapp agreed. “It hurts, because we need to make big cuts,” she assessed. “I came in tonight opting to vote to eliminate, but I can’t do it at the expense of not having counselors for our kids.”
The dismissal would have necessitated a pink slip issued by March 15 in order to meet legal requirements for a Certificated position termination. Ultimately, the Board decided it could always revisit the position, including retooling or rewriting the job description, during other budget dealings if need be. All five members voted against Jayne’s dismissal.