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Regional Board Eliminates Guidance Directors

Lead counselors to take over, savings would bring in additional department members.

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.”

Domino July 17, 2012 at 03:17 PM
I guess Mrs. Asdal and Mrs. Guilmette aren't too concerned by the obvious conflict of interest that Dr. Marchese has been running a private college counseling business while working as the Guidance Director at WMMHS. Her www.collegeconnexxions.com website is rather impressive. I wonder how many Mendham senoirs didn't get into top schools because Dr. Marchese was busy helping one of her "paid clients"? Asdal and Guilmette need to stop protecting their pals.
LVMom July 18, 2012 at 06:49 PM
100 bucks an hour for the extra 20 days, and only 200 days work! wow... where do i sigh up! ..
LVMom July 18, 2012 at 06:57 PM
i won't even comment on the whole getting into top schools thing... really that is NOT the job of a guidance councilor! there are other reasons they didn't get in...EVERY one of my daughter's homeschooled friends got into 'top' schools. It's a PARENTS job to help their kid get into college. Most got into almost every school they applied to, so if us - hippy, unconventional, homeschooling outcasts can do you so can you. -- what's next FREE SAT prep?
Claire July 18, 2012 at 07:52 PM
umm, homeschool mom, you always go on and on about how much smarter you are. I guess the homeschool program doesn't need a "counselor".
Tracy Buckner July 18, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Instead of wondering "how many seniors didn't get into top schools because of Dr. Marchese" you should instead be focusing on how many students she did help in her 14 years of service. A few years ago my son was one of only 2 students in all of Morris County who was admitted to ED to Georgetown who was NOT from a private high school. Thankfully, WMMHS had Dr. Marchese. She helped us so much and her solid and long standing relationship with Georgetown, was I'm guessing - key. When visiting Boston College, the Director of Admissions heard that Mendham students were on campus he found us and said, "say hello to Marianna for me." The DIRECTOR of Admissions! When applying early to top schools everyone is qualified and therefore you need an advocate, someone with a working, proven relationship with college Admissions offices. The simple truth is that grades are not enough and anyone with kids applying to these types of schools will tell you this. Everyone plays a sport, plays an instrument, has the grades. You need an advocate. WMMHS's advocate is Dr. Marchese. She is President of the NATIONAL Association for College Admissions Counseling....PRESIDENT of the most prestigious organization for college admissions in the country. She has long standing relationships with UPENN, Georgetown, BC, Vanderbilt, U of Michigan, Lehigh, UVA, U of Richmond to name just few. This is someone you decide to eliminate? How convenient and quite transparent that this is done during summer session.
Domino July 18, 2012 at 10:27 PM
No one is questioning her abilities or skill sets. I'm sure she is extremely capable, and qualified. This is why she is the director of guidance and commands a six-figure salary. And I am not making any judgement as to whether her position should be maintained or eliminated; that is for others to decide. But bear in mind she is not doing this for free here; she is a public employee who has honed her skills in this position at taxpayer expense while simultaneously selling these same services to other students outside of the district (or inside the district to the same students she should be helping for free as part of her job description) at a fee per student of something north of $4,000.00 per student. So the question is not whether she is well-known and respected in her area of expertise; it is whether having this side business is a very significant conflict of interest or not. I think any parent whose son or daughter did not get into a school they thought they had a good chance to get into has to wonder if they received the maximum effort from their director of guidance or, if some of her time and focus was dedicated to her paying clientele.
Claire July 19, 2012 at 01:17 PM
This was Superintendent Pendergrast's initiative. The BOE is trusting his expertise. But I too am confused because it seems like Dr Marchese was a real asset to WMM. It sounds like WMM has a much better guidance dept than WMC. Oh wait, thats not fair is it??
LVMom July 19, 2012 at 02:44 PM
claire it's not a matter of how much smarter or even if i am smarter (prob not) it's just that i don't think it's the schools job to get a kid INTO A TOP college, it's the child's and the parent's that should be working together for that goal. it has nothing to do with a school councilor. ALL homeschoolers are their kids counselors.. it's just part of homeschooling.. my point was if I can do it so can others.
LVMom July 19, 2012 at 02:46 PM
i stand corrected... apparently WMMHS does pull strings for kids... wow.. so it's just another thing that this town charges me for in taxes and won't let me use... thanks... sort of fits with the rest of my day...
Domino July 19, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Barbara, you may be right. I remember seeing an advertisment in one of the yellow pages some years back for the Mendham High School music department, offering private music instruction. You could go to the new music wing and pay for private lessons with Gary Quam or one of his adjuncts. Now, the director of guidance has a side business getting other students into colleges. I would guess that to many taxpayers, this behavior illustrates why there is currently a backlash against teachers, tenure and educators in general. I think there is a conflict there. Maybe you or other people do not. I think this issue needs to be closely examined.
kittykitty July 19, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Claire, why would you imply that WMM has a better guidance department based on information in this article? I get no such impression, and no comparison is made in the content about the abilities of qualities of the two departments. We don't need more stirring the pot about the assumed differences in the two schools. I feel they are both treated equally and anything different is information having been portrayed as such to anger taxpayers to see it CBS's way.
Claire July 19, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Domino, teachers at WMM/C have been tutoring on the side for years. Yes, I think its odd that they can use school facilities for it though. Some parents do it so their kids can get straight A's, others because student struggles in subject. I often wonder what will happen to that student when they go off to college, they get into a school they really aren't qualified for because Mom paid for a tutor. Maybe teachers/guidance counselors should just do their job and all this "extra" would not be needed.
cv July 19, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Nice post Claire , I feel the same way about elementary school . My daughter struggles with math and the teachers suggest a tutor all the time. Some of us dont have 200.00 extra dollars a month to add to the over 1000.00 wea la=ready pay in property tax. I am also sorry for getting off topic folks.
Claire July 19, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Linda, I am saying this based on Mrs. Buckners comment above, explaining WMM students special attention given at colleges due to Dr. Marchese's connections. Please read Mrs Buckners detailed comment above. I didnt say both depts are not treated the same by the school board.
Claire July 19, 2012 at 03:38 PM
Barbara, no I agree with you, the idea should have been presented to the BOE and then voted on at a later meeting when it could be looked into. It is a shame they did this in mid July. I am also surprised that this was voted on when 1/3 of the members were not there to give input in the discussion. I am all for change and saving money but lets be sure its done right.
1819 July 19, 2012 at 04:38 PM
Perhaps if Forrester et al had bothered to show for the vote that would have been raised.
1819 July 19, 2012 at 04:52 PM
@LV Mom. Judging by the lack of grammar, proper capitization, spelling, possessive vs. plural, etc., errors in your handful of posts here, I pray for your child. That aside, I wonder how many homeschooled kids wind up rocking in a corner in the social college atmosphere after attending their first classroom experience?
Jason Koestenblatt (Editor) July 19, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Great conversation going on here, everyone, and thanks for keeping it civil, as this can be a contentious issue. Claire - Just wanted to clarify something regarding only six members voting at the meeting. Mendham Twp. representative Jamie Button was at the meeting prior to executive session (making for a seventh board member). He interacted with Mackey Pendergrast during the presentation of options and asked questions. Everyone in the room was aware action, or a vote, *might* be taken once executive session was over. Button then left when the meeting closed for executive. To your point about the meeting being in mid-July. Could you explain to me why you feel that was a factor at all? I'm curious to get your take. Thanks!
Claire July 19, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Jason, Thank you for the clarification. My comment about mid-july was there was pressure to make a decision immediately so that it could be implemented before start of school year. One BOE member commented on the time squeeze. They are eliminating a position. In a school environment, it is more difficult to find a job once a school year starts so its fair to do it now.. It seems the direction the school is taking, eliminating admin and creating lead positions instead, it just seems like this is a good employee and its a shame if they lose her. Maybe a different solution may have worked best in this situation.
stacie bohr July 19, 2012 at 07:39 PM
I disagree with the notion that children who are tutored will be ill equipped once they reach college because their parents paid for tutors. I have children in the elementary, middle and high school level. All four have had tutors at one point or another who did wonders for them. Each tutor was a teacher from one of the schools. Quite frankly, I would have "tutored" my kids myself but didn't feel qualified to do so. What I don't understand is why is it an issue if someone is a teacher but also has a side job tutoring? Would it be any different than an electrician who works for a contractor having his own little side business?
Tracy Buckner July 19, 2012 at 09:29 PM
I'm so happy this is staying civil! Since my post I have received many favorable emails and phone calls from others with their own Dr. Marchese stories: "She helped my son get into Michigan; she talked my son into applying to Cornell, then she went to the college fair and talked to them about him and he was accepted; my kids were waitisted at Penn State and she made a call; my daughter was waitlisted at Marist and she got in; UPENN loves us because of Dr. Marchese; Georgetown actually came to WMMHS and my son met with an admissions rep in a small group setting right off her office. He didn't have to compete with 300+ students at the Marriott," and the list goes on and on. I strongly suggested they contact the superintendent but people are reluctant to get involved. It's really too bad because everyone, including the superintendent, works for us. "What's to be fearful of?" I ask them - "it's your kids!" There's no way of knowing how the elimination of her position will impact the students unless you compare next years graduating class of college acceptances to this year's extremely impressive list of acceptances. My guess it won't even be close. Dr. Marchese had a hand in many of these acceptances. It's the reason you have a Director of Guidance. My daughter is off to BC next year so I have no stake in what happens, but this was handled so very unprofessionally I had to say something. I'm telling everyone I know.
Claire July 19, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Wow! I think the parents of WMM should stop complaining about WMC. Look what WMM gets!!!!!
LVMom August 04, 2012 at 03:09 PM
i think all those picking on homeschoolers should stop too, we get no one with 'connections' helping us... we get to pay taxes, FIGHT to take APs in our own district, be excluded from everything (town choice not state), and now we don't even get those connections -- wow I am so glad i pay all those school taxes to live in a town that doesn't even have contact info for the superintendent on the board of ed's website --

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