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Baltimore sees decline in school counselor positions

The Baltimore City school system has seen a steep decline in the number of counselors in recent years amid sustained budget woes.

The district currently has 84 positions, compared to about 120 during the 2014-15 school year. That’s a 30 percent drop.

City schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said the reduction reflects both a decline in the number of students and the number of schools within the district.

“More significantly, it reflects the difficult decisions principals have had to make in the face of several years of rising costs and revenue declines resulting from flat funding and decreased enrollment,” she said in a statement. “In some schools, the principal may have chosen to eliminate a counselor position in order to retain a teacher.”

A severe budget shortfall last year led to more than 100 layoffs, including 21 people who served as either school counselors or librarians.

Both at the district level and nationally, there’s been an increased focus on student mental health. Last month, a 19-year-old man stormed into his former high school in Florida and went on a shooting rampage, killing 17 people.

School counselors help manage students’ social and emotional needs, along with their academic ones. They also work to prepare kids for college and life after high school.

In order to fill some of the gaps in Baltimore, House-Foster said, the district works with outside groups to provide mentoring and other related services. A handful of city schools, for example, partner with the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

In addition to guidance counselors, Baltimore also places some social workers and psychologists in schools. The number of school therapists has increased over the last decade, going from 128 positions in 2007 to 162 in 2017, according to the state education department.

Nevertheless, House-Foster said, the reduction in counselor positions makes the “work of supporting students’ social and emotional well-being and preparing them for college and career more difficult.”

The American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1. In Maryland, the average is 369-to-1. Baltimore’s ratio comes out to more than 900 students per counselor.

House-Foster said the district will continue to advocate for funding to help provide more counseling services to students, but noted a state analysis that found Baltimore schools historically have been shortchanged by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Digital Harbor High School lost one of its counselors this year after a budget cut prompted by declining enrollment.

Senior Ashley Peña said it was hard for students to lose a confidant as they navigated the college admissions process and other high school hurdles.

“She knew our back stories so she could connect with us more than any other staff members,” Peña said.

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