By ADAM SWIFT
PEABODY — The loss of two high school guidance counselors will have a major impact on student services, according to department staff.
This week, the School Committee held a public hearing before approving the $71,894,793 2017-18 school budget. Cuts in the budget include trimming the number of guidance counselors at the high school from seven to five.
“Guidance counselors are a vital part of what happens and of the support that students get at Peabody High School,” said Antonio Braganca, the head of the high school guidance department.
Cutting the two positions would increase the caseload for each high school counselor from 240 to 305, said Braganca.
“I believe the proposed cuts would jeopardize the upcoming PVMHS accreditation and the current coordinated program review,” said the 36-year veteran of the Peabody schools. “The decreased staff in guidance does not make sense to me.”
Guidance services are more complicated than they have been in past years, and include mental health services that students might not be able to get outside the schools, Braganca said.
Michaline Hague, head of the high school’s English department, agreed.
“We have found that in our classrooms, we have many more students with social and emotional concerns and they need to go to their guidance counselors,” said Hague. “We need to keep staff here. There are definite reasons that students need to leave the classroom when they suddenly have an anxiety attack or a panic attack. Those are things that have not remotely occurred except in recent years.”
Will English is one of the two high school counselors expected to not make the cut for 2017-18. He said he has a strong support network and expects to find another job, but that he has concerns about how the cuts will affect students.
“Mental health issues are on the rise and schools are increasingly the safety net,” said English. “For many of my students, this cut will mean their third guidance counselor in three years. Counseling is a relationship-based undertaking, and I strongly encourage you to reconsider this.”
School Committee member Brandi Carpenter said she also has concerns about the cuts to high school guidance, but noted that putting together the school budget is difficult.