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Parents request more counselors at Morris Area

MORRIS – On Monday, parents urged members of the Morris Area School Board to add more counseling support in the district, even if it meant making other potentially painful budget cuts.

Morris Area currently has one counselor, Tammy Roth, serving the approximately 1,000 students in the elementary and high schools.

Peg Rinkenberger, a social studies teacher at MAHS, told the board that counselors offer needed support for students.

“There are times when counselors save lives, and it takes more than a minute,” said Rinkenberger.

She also noted the need for help preparing students for life after high school.

“As a teacher, I can tell you that when we had multiple counselors, we were doing many more things with careers and scholarships and college education and investigating who we are and what we want to do, but that's been taken away because there's no time,” she said.

Julie Eckerle, a parent of two daughters at Morris Area Elementary School, said the responsibilities of a high school counselor to work on career and college support are different from the social and psychological issues that a different type of counselor works on.

“Having one person to deal with both of those is, to me, rather shocking,” she said.

“I'm an educator … and I still think it would be worth making other cuts to make this happen,” she said.

School Board Chair Kurt Gartland told the audience that the district finance committee is still working on the budget for next year.

“We do have 23 lines that we're looking at adding to the budget, adjusting the budget for next year,” said Gartland. “One of those items is counseling. We haven't missed this or something. We just haven't made a decision yet.”

In addition to more time for counseling, issues that the Finance Committee is considering include considerations like time for specialists in music and physical education, bilingual instruction for second grade, financial support for a VISTA intern in community education, transportation for students attending after school tutoring and more.

“There are difficult decisions – what do you not do that's on the list? Everything that's on the list is, I believe, positive for kids and staff and parents and the school district,” said Monson.

“It should be noted right now that we are looking at a shortfall for next year,” Gartland noted. “That's nothing surprising to a lot of schools around the area.

The most recent preliminary proposed budget included a deficit of about $237,000. State funding decisions, enrollment and additional programs could increase or decrease that number before the final budget is adopted in June.

Preliminary work on the budget is completed by the district Finance Committee, which includes board members Kurt Gartland, Dick Metzger and Jamie Solvie. Additional counseling time has been discussed at multiple Finance Committee meetings, said Monson.

“School board committees do a great deal of work and often bring forward a recommendation (or offer their support to my recommendation) to the entire school board,” Monson said.

The Finance Committee will meet to discuss the budget on Monday, May 13. Monson said he will bring an updated budget recommendation based on the Finance Committee's recommendation to the full board at their next meeting, rescheduled to Thursday, May 16.