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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.”

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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