ASD Students, Staff Worried About Counseling Cuts
The Anchorage School District Superintendent has recommended a budget which eliminates more than 200 jobs. Counseling services could be hit especially hard. KSKA’s Daysha Eaton visited Service High School in Anchorage where staff and students are worried about the impact of the cuts.
Johnny Meszaros loves baseball.
“My passion for baseball is very, very strong. I’m working out at lunchtime. I’m weight training I probably put in as much as a full-time job playing baseball,” Meszaros said.
The Cougars pitcher is set to graduate from Service High School this spring and has a full ride to play college baseball at Central Arizona University. But things weren’t always on track for him. In 10th grade he was dabbling in drugs and lost focus.
“I wasn’t passing any classes and I was getting in trouble. I was getting suspended. And then I got in trouble for good, I got expelled,” Meszaros said.
He was expelled but allowed to come back after a semester.
The 17-year-old lost valuable time and is making up more than a semester’s worth of credits in order to graduate.
For Christian Alvarado, it was moving that pushed him off track. His parents are from Guatemala. He relocated to Anchorage from Oklahoma when he was in first grade. He hasn’t stopped jumping around since.
“Since I moved to Anchorage, I’ve probably moved a dozen times. Having to move because of either just wanting a different place or better opportunity or just cause I have to because maybe you know, something went wrong with the lease,” Alvarado said.
Sometimes Alvarado says he ended up living across town and because his single mom worked full-time, she usually wasn’t around to help him get to and from school.
“There’s times when I would really want to go to school and like you know I would wake up and honestly, I wouldn’t have a ride,” Alvarado said.
As a result, he fell behind. Eventually, he moved in with a classmate’s family near Service. The 18-year-old works part-time to contribute to the rent. If he makes it, he’ll be the first in his family to graduate from high school. He says he wants to major in Business at UAA, then open his own construction company. But he has a lot of catching up to do first – he has to make up most of his sophomore and junior year by May to graduate.
Both Alvarado and Meszaros get help from Carly Tibbetts.
“You know, love, sex, drugs, alcohol, suicide. I have those conversations on a daily basis with my kids,” Tibbetts said.
Tibbetts, who has a Master’s degree in social work, says she can relate to the students because she also struggled with school. Besides day-to-day counseling, she also manages a ‘credit recovery’ program to help kids who fall behind. About 1,800 students attend Service High School. Tibbetts says the 75 or so students she works with face serious challenges.
“We have kids that are homeless. We have kids that bounce from parent to parent. We have kids that are into drugs. I become their cheerleader but I’m also the person who calls them when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing,” Tibbetts said.
Anchorage School District Superintendent, Jim Browder, has recommended a budget that eliminates more than 200 jobs, including Tibbetts’. He says the cuts are needed to address a $25 million budget shortfall caused by flat funding from the legislature that is not keeping up with inflation and cost of living increases for employees. Jodette Knock teaches math at Service. Her job is not in jeopardy, but she thinks one of the district’s primary goals is.
“If we cut these counselors, our graduation rates that we want to go up are gonna go down. Kids get frustrated, they have nowhere to turn and they’ll be done,” Knock said.
The district’s comprehensive plan calls for a graduation rate of 90 percent by 2020. The rate has been stuck in the 60 to 75 percent range for nearly a decade. Knock also worries that fewer counselors will put more pressure on teachers.
“I have 34 kids in a classroom. How much more do you want me to do? I’ve got six languages spoken. And if I’m the lone support person, it’s gonna be really hard for these kids. And I’m pretty sure it’s not to cut the counseling support staff,” Knock said.
Browder’s budget recommends eliminating 28 full-time positions in counseling services out of 132, reducing the number to 104 district-wide. That includes doing away with all eight graduation coaches and all eight High School Career Resource Advisors. Superintendent Browder says compared to other school districts, Anchorage has more counselors. And many of the programs that employ them were initially paid for by grants, which have run out. What Browder says he envisions is fewer counselors per school who are generalists — sort of super counselors that can handle anything.
“Anybody inside of the suite should be able to handle any issue. And I think we’re realigning in a way that will provide better service for parents, students and the school as we move forward,” Browder said.
Back at Service High School the kids who benefit from the graduation coach say they don’t know what they’d do without her. Johnny Meszaros says he would not be back in school.
“I was planning on dropping out my sophomore year. I actually got kicked out of school for drugs and stuff and she put me on the right track. We wouldn’t be having this conversation if she wasn’t here,” Meszaros said.
The School Board will be accepting public testimony on the proposed 2013-2014 budget on Monday, February 4th at the Anchorage Education Center beginning at 6:30pm.
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