In an effort to save money and provide a lower student-to-guidance counselor ratio in the West Morris Regional High School District, the board of education voted to restructure the current set-up, eliminating the Director of Student Personnel Services at each school.
That position, which will be vacant at when the retirement of Randy Evans takes effect on Aug. 31, and is currently filled by Marianna Marchese at Mendham High School, is being replaced by a lead counselor at each school.
The lead counselor will receive a $15,000 stipend, have one-third less students to manage, and will be required to work an additional 20 days in the summer.
By eliminating the director position at each school, the district takes an estimated $400,000 off the budget, Superintendent Mackey Pendergrast said. In that total for the two directors are salary, benefits, and additional stipends for taking part in IRS and 504 Committees, Pendergrast said.
The move was one of three options available to the board at its regular meeting Monday night in an ongoing restructuring mandated by the state earlier this year.
The other options, as presented by Pendergrast, were:
- Hire a replacement for Evans at Central, and keep Marchese in her position at Mendham. There would be no cost savings.
- Create one district director overseeing both guidance departments. The director would receive a salary in the range of $175,000. There would be a cost savings to hire additional counselors in each school.
“There’s something to be said for staying the same, and there’s something to be said for making change,” Pendergrast said before the board discussed the matter behind closed doors. “We have this before us, and our job is to make a decision.”
Under the change, Marchese will be given “notification of any eligibility she may have, through tenure and seniority, for other positions in the district,” according to the board action.
Pendergrast, a former guidance counselor at Mendham High School, said the most valuable resource a counselor can have is more time, and that the average member between both departments has a caseload of 233 students per year.
“How do we deliver the best possible educational experience in the most responsible manner,” Pendergrast said to the board. “Where do we align resources, both financial and human?”
By voting for the lead counselor option, the district frees up enough money to provide one extra counselor in each school, Pendergrast said. The cost savings would also provide available funds for the district to bolster or replace positions within the district.
Among some of the district’s needs, Pendergrast said, were a district supervisor of world languages, and creating a lead teacher of electives.
If those positions were filled, in addition to adding a counselor to each school, the district could still save as much as $52,000, Pendergrast said.
Major Decision, Minimal Time
Because the board is currently operating on a summer schedule, the next meeting of the body is at the end of August, just a few days before the start of the school year.
“If we make this decision now,” Pendergrast said, “and we work hard, we can have people in place for the start of the school year. If we wait to move on this until the next meeting, we probably won’t have the chance to make any changes before the school year begins.”
Sue Guilmette of Chester Township, a former board member, said the decision was a big one, and more time should be spent going over the options.
“I don’t think this is a decision that should be rushed into,” Guilmette said. “I implore this board to take a look at hard look at these options.”
Guilmette’s successor on the board, Marcia Asdal, felt the move was too soon as well.
“I’m not opposed to your recommendation,” Asdal said to Pendergrast before voting. “But I feel like I’m being forced to act tonight.”
Washington Township representative Joseph Galayda felt the time squeeze had an impact, but backed Pendergrast for the work he had already put into the move.
“I’d like to have a few more days to think about it,” Galayda said. “But we hired you for a reason. You’re hanging your hat on this.”
Just six members of the board voted on the restructuring, as Cristen Forrester and David Lobron were absent. Jamie Button attended the start of the meeting, but left prior to executive session. The remaining members voted unanimously.
“I’ve put the time in (to the restructuring),” Pendergrast said. “We owe it to the taxpayer this year. I don’t see it as a wild venture. We owe it to our constituents and our children now.”