Staff cuts have 'domino effect' in schools

Imagine a day of school in which everything just seems to go wrong.

You get to school late and have to stop off at the attendance office in order to get a readmit. When you get there, there's a huge line of students and only one secretary at the desk. You end up having to wait in line for so long that you actually miss your first-period class.

After an intensely dry second and third period in which your teachers focus on just the state standards instead of helping the students learn through fun demonstrations and projects, you head off to lunch.

After wasting 30 minutes of your 45-minute lunch break waiting in line (due to a drop in the number of lunch ladies) you decide to simply buy a bag of chips from the vending machine and call it your "lunch."

After a rather unsuccessful day at school, you decide to head to the counselor's office in order to check on your grades and talk about your college options. When you reach the door of the counseling office, you find a note that reads "only students with a prior set appointment may see their counselor. If you wish to speak with someone, please fill out a slip of paper and we'll get to you as soon as possible."

Frustrated, you decide to simply head home and forget about your bad day at school.

Hopefully, the next day will be better.

However the devastating reality is that because of budget cuts, a day like the one outlined above could represent a typical school day in the years ahead.

The massive district and statewide budget cuts in education have been all over the news recently. The cuts are hitting staff hard and endangering not only the jobs of teachers, but vice principals, counselors and secretaries as well.

At Modesto High School, four of the six counselors have been pink-slipped, including the college counselor. One pink slip was rescinded and the counselor received a job in the district. Thus, half of the counselors at Modesto High don't know what the future holds.

"The cuts aren't just messing with your job, it's your life," said head counselor Marcie Dillon.

The current proposal is to cut half of the counselors and change the student-to-counselor ratio from 550:1 to 750:1.

"Anytime the case load goes up by 200 students, it will be harder for students to obtain the counseling assistance they need," Dillon said.

These cuts to school guidance and college counselors are districtwide.

"We do a great job of serving our kids, and I worry that we won't be able to serve them as well next year," Dillon said.

With cuts in counselors and secretaries, phone calls are going to voice-mail more often. This will mean less access to seeing your counselor one on one and less personal planning for each student. Financial aid, UC, and USC workshops all could be canceled in high schools. Also, counselors will not be able to focus on emotional counseling and won't be able to sit down for 30 minutes and talk to a student who is simply having a bad day.

As far as the custodians and lunch staff are concerned, their cuts came last year; they have received no pink slips this year. Yet the drop in both these areas has already required many of them to take on more work and responsibilities than usual. Cuts in secretaries can lead to less available staff in the attendance office and can make it harder for students to clear their absences or unsatisfactory citizenship grades.

Also being cut severely is administration at the high schools.

"Budget cuts produce a domino effect," said Jenny Solis, an assistant principal at Modesto High School. "The faculty at Modesto High who have been pink-slipped know the families, they know the students, they know the culture of our school. The consistency of school is in danger."

Rebecca Mears is a junior at Modesto High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.