Counselors resume staffing arguments

Despite long odds, public school counselors hope to convince Louisiana’s top school board to reverse itself on a new rule that critics said Monday would diminish their role.

“Our ultimate concern is for the students of Louisiana not getting the information they need,” said Cathy Smith, president of the Louisiana School Counselors Association.

But state Superintendent of Education John White said he has been working with Smith’s group to reach a compromise.

White said he plans to recommend a change in the new rule when the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meets April 16.

“We have been consulting with the counselors’ association and agree with much of what they have to say,” he said.

BESE voted in January to change staffing rules for counselors.

Under the current policy, high schools are supposed to employ one counselor for every 450 students.

Under the change, schools could get around that staffing requirement if they use vendors or others to provide counseling services.

White said the new rules are part of a bid to give local school districts more flexibility and fewer mandates from the state Department of Education.

But Smith said members of her group are sending letters to BESE members, and some plan to be on hand when the issue comes up again. “So we are planning to go again and once again talk,” she said.

Louisiana has an estimated 2,300 public school counselors.

They assist students on course selections, graduation requirements, career and college options, test interpretations and personal problems.

“You have the person who can meet all those needs in one person,” Smith said.

However, department officials said in a recent newsletter that school districts are already using a wide array of counseling services, including part-time employees, contracts with nonprofit groups, collaboration with higher education officials and community mentors.

White said he plans to ask BESE to tweak the new policy and require that noncounselors who provide student services undergo evaluations just as counselors do.

He said that would answer concerns about accountability by association officials.

“And we agreed with that,” White said.

In an email, Smith said that would not satisfy her group.

“Although they are being evaluated, it is not by the same standard as school counselors,” she said.

Smith said that, under White’s plan, “the students will not have access to a data-driven comprehensive school counseling program that meets the academic, personal/social and college and career readiness needs of all students.”