School may be over, but the calls for help continue to come to guidance counselor Betty Isom. Just last week, a mother called to ask how she should explain a death in the family to her distraught son.
But this may be the last time Isom will use the summer to counsel, planand conduct workshops for students and their parents. Her job is slated to be cut back from year-round to 10 months.
Throughout the county, workshops have been scheduled this summer on everything from divorce and separation to self-esteem, leadership and training for parents to help with homework.
But more than 150 guidance counselors, who are represented by the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, are waiting along with county teachers for completion of contract negotiations with the Board of Education.
Theidea for cutting counselors back to 10-month schedules, officials say, was to save money in a tight budget year and still put more counselors in more schools during the school year. Currently, most elementary counselors divide their time between two schools.
"It was a negotiation proposal about placing more counselors in school during the year," said Bill Scott, the board's chief negotiator. "We're looking for alternative ways to have more people working with students when school is in session.
"I don't know if it's a fair trade-off, but in lean budget times, we have to look carefully at the return on the investment. I think the need for counselors during the school year faroutweighs what takes place during the summer."
Scott said the plan, if accepted, would be phased in over a three-year period. At the end of that time, most counselors would work a 10-month schedule.
The current contract for counselors and teachers has been extended from June 30 to September 30. TAAAC President Tom Paolino said the groupwill not respond to an independent arbitrator's report or the board's response until the issue can be brought before the union's general membership in September.
But in Isom's case, this probably will bethe last summer she works. The school board has decided to adhere tothe letter of the current contract, which requires that counselors assigned to schools with less than 750 students work 10 months. Since she no longer is shared by two schools, she will automatically becomea 10-month employee.
"I really don't like it because not all of the schools have 750 students, but the ratio should be a little smaller when the need is urgent," Isom said. "Next summer, parents will notbe able to call me.
"I'm very concerned about drug prevention," Isom said. "I've planned several programs during the year, but unfortunately, plans are made during the summer and most cannot be done for the next year until late July and early August. I think cutting our hours would be a loss."
Jack White, the school system's budget officer, said the first year of the 10-month pay schedule would save about $200,000.
"Guidance counselor was always a job that comes secondarily in the budget process to teaching positions," White said. "There hasn't been much money for the past few years."