Lack of support staff is hurting schools

Talia Richman’s story on the 30 percent drop in school counselors in Baltimore (“Baltimore sees decline in school counselor positions,” March 1) investigates the major crisis in the lack of support staff for students in the city system. This critical problem also exists in Baltimore County Public Schools. A key factor in evaluating support staff shortages is calculating the actual workload as well as the average ratio of students to staff. The average student-to-counselor ratio in Maryland is 369-to-1 (the recommended ratio is 250-to-1), but at individual schools in Baltimore County this ratio is often much higher. For example, just one counselor is provided for up to 700 students at Baltimore County elementary schools.

For social workers in Baltimore County schools, the shortages are far worse: there are only 73.5 full time equivalent positions in the system. The ratio recommended by the American School of Social Work is one social worker to 250 students. Even if the currently proposed additional 16 positions are approved, the ratio will still be just one social worker for every 1,258 students (currently the ratio is 1 to 1,501 students). Since social workers are full time only at the high schools, a high school can have anywhere from 1,000-2,000 students and only one social worker.

BCPS has only 39 full-time Pupil Personnel Workers (PPWs) who handle everything from homelessness, suspensions, house visits and court cases to discipline and attendance problems and many other issues. In the southeast area of the county, one single PPW has to visit five schools with about 2,900 students. Four of her schools have 60 percent or more children living in severe poverty, totaling over 1,800 students. Over 1,000 of her students receive SNAP, or food stamps, and 172 were identified as homeless last year. For school psychologists, the ratio in BCPS is 1 to 1,294 students while the National Association of School Psychologists recommends a workload of one psychologist to 500-700 students, with lower ratios recommended when psychologists are addressing intensive needs.

The horrific workloads for support staff in both Baltimore and Baltimore County public schools represent a major failure of the education systems, and of the governments funding them, to understand the importance of support staff to help our students in greatest need for services. The results of these failures include increased violence in schools, high stress levels for students and staff and the learning problems that occur when students cannot get the help they need because no one is there for them.

Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, Towson

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