Superintendent John Casey and his staff brought the resolution to the board in light of state budget developments which point to a strong possibility that the state will allocate additional funding for secondary school counselors. However, the state budget will not be finalized until June 30, or possibly later, and the board does not meet during the summer.
"Since we don't have a board meeting from now until August, we'd like authorization from the board to watch the state budget, watch the enrollment, and to have its blessing to add counselors depending on how things develop," Casey said.
The addition of new counselors could cost the district anywhere from $301,063 to $602,126 depending on how many counselors are added, according to the staff report. The district has said adding more counselors at all school levels is top priority after reviewing a report by the Excellence Committee, a 55-member committee the board created last year in order to recommend changes to the schools. The Committee recommended the district add enough counselors to lower the student-counselor ratio at the comprehensive high schools from 685 to 1 to 300 to 1. At the alternative high school, the committee recommended a ratio of 250 to 1 and adding three new counselors at every middle school.
While all the trustees, with the exception of Trustee Kris Weaver who was absent from the meeting, agreed that they would like to add more counselors, there was disagreement on whether the district should move forward with the hiring even if the state funds do not come through.
"I hate being at the mercy of the state," said Trustee Pat Kernan. Kernan proposed that the board ask the district to hire new counselors, regardless if the state provides additional funding or not, by taking the money needed out of the district's reserve funds.
"I've heard throughout the community people saying, 'The Excellence Committee is great, but you're just going to add a parcel tax and make us pay.' But that is not the case," Kernan said. The district recently hired a consulting firm to investigate the feasibility of a parcel tax for the March 2007 election. "We need to make a statement as a board, be leaders, and back the Excellence Study," he added.
Trustees Steve Pulido and Jim Ott agreed with Kernan, but Trustee Juanita Haugen was adamant that the district should not dip into its reserve funds.
"I'm not willing to risk the reserve for hiring long-term people," Haugen said. "The worse thing we can do is hire someone without knowing we have funding and then cut them the next year, or cut other non-contracted staff."
In the end, the board agreed to authorize the district to hire new counselors up to the $602,126 maximum cost, but left it open where the funding would come from. Casey said the hiring of counselors will be contingent on the additional state funding and if the district receives any additional funds from increased enrollment.