Phila. schools rehire 80 laid-off counselors

Posted: November 05, 2013

Eighty counselors laid off in a brutal budget crunch will return to Philadelphia schools Monday - not enough help, officials said, but good news nonetheless.

Now, every high school will have at least one or the equivalent of one full-time counselor. Some schools will divide the counselor position between two people. Overall, 169 schools will have counseling services five days a week, and 46 will have one counselor shared between two schools. Sixty-three counselors remain laid off.

The $45 million Gov. Corbett released to the Philadelphia School District last month is paying for the counselors' return. Some assistant principals, secretaries, teachers, and aides to support special-education students are also coming back, but officials said they did not yet have final totals on the numbers of those employees called back.

Eight weeks without a full complement of counselors have taken their toll.

Some schools skipped giving the PSATs because there was no counselor to coordinate or no money to pay the fees. At others, students have had to wait weeks to see a counselor, though applications for colleges or selective district middle and high schools will soon be due.

Veteran counselor Ruth Garcia, who was serving 3,700 students at eight schools as an itinerant counselor, is headed back to a full-time position at Shawmont Elementary in Roxborough.

Last year, Garcia was one of seven counselors at Edison High School. She had hoped to return to a secondary school, given her experience, but was assigned to an elementary school.

District officials said their highest priority in recalling counselors was ensuring that every high school had a counselor. Then they allocated counselors to high-needs schools, including those with a large number of special-education students and those that had absorbed a large number of students from schools that closed in June.

Any progress is welcome, Garcia said, but even 80 recalled counselors is not enough.

"I pray every day for there not to be a catastrophe," she said. "This puts disadvantaged students at a further disadvantage."

Thomas Butler, a local college-access expert and executive director of the Philadelphia College Prep Roundtable, said there were consequences for students whose schools skipped the PSATs.

In addition to preparing students for the SATs, the PSATs serve as the qualifier for National Merit Scholarships. They also get students on colleges' radar screens. PSATs were administered in October.

District spokesman Fernando Gallard said the decision to skip PSATs was made by individual schools.

"Some of the schools made budgetary decisions to set aside funds for PSATs, and others felt it was more important to do something else," Gallard said.

Butler said he also worried about what the budget problems and counselor cutbacks might do to city students' college chances.

"The college timeline is set, and students need access to information and resources," Butler said. "Students have suffered. They're behind the timeline, especially for early action, early decision, and they're competing against students in districts with a lot of resources."

Local colleges and universities understand the context of the district's budget problems, but more far-flung institutions "may start to back away from Philadelphia public schools," he said.

215-854-5146 @newskag

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