Due to budget cuts, our school district is woefully without money. In the past, the parcel tax had been supporting one of the most important programs in our education system - school counselors. However, as the parcel tax is due to expire this summer, our district is suddenly faced with a huge budget deficit - something the district hopes to resolve by cutting important educational programs.
"We're looking at potentially 190 permanent teaching employees receiving layoff notices," said Terry Koehne, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District's Community Relations Director. "We've cut to the bone for the last six to seven years, and we're knocking on classroom doors now."
I was - to say the least - shocked when I heard the news. I think of my counselor's office as something of a place of Zen. It is a room where my problems work out. More than once, I've seen my counselor Patricia Lamson for emergency meetings.
Whenever I had a question regarding my classes, teachers or even something outside of school, my counselor had the answer. She was a walking encyclopedia. But, even on the rare occasions when she (gasp) didn't have the answer, she would fastidiously try to find out. She made phone calls, sent e-mails, always doing all she could for me.
I'd never seen her with a moment to spare. Sometimes, I would go to see her, only to be deferred to a waiting room, where several other people were in front of me. One after another, we'd be called to her room. But, still, by the time it was my turn, she would greet me with a cheery smile on her face.
"If there were no counselors, it would be extremely tough for schools to function," said Koehne.
Counselors, besides being academic gurus, have myriad jobs. They create the class schedules for each student, editing them and changing them as necessary. They are the overseers of the climate committee, which means they meet with student representatives every month and listen to student suggestions on everything from prom to the new disciplinary policies. They create the school profile, which is sent alongside grade reports to colleges. They act as the liaison between Diablo Valley College and Monte Vista students. All in all, they juggle more than 40 responsibilities (yes, I counted).
I asked some Monte Vista students what was the most recent thing their counselors did for them. Shahryar Abassi, a senior, answered that his counselor, Patricia Whalen, was especially helpful during the college process.
"She interviewed me to get to know me better for my college recommendation," he told me, "but she also helped me with things she didn't need to - like finding scholarships."
Tavish Nanda told me that his counselor, Karolyn Palmer, not only nominated him for scholarships, but also gave him an opportunity to attend a medical conference.
Other students, like Bijan Mehryar, asked their counselors about how to manage their summer courses and sign up for classes at DVC.
With the expiration of the parcel tax and the recent state budget cuts, the district is now facing the possibility of enlarging class sizes, discarding the fifth-grade instrumental program, reducing librarians, and much, much more.
The School District has consistently sent its students to the best colleges and universities. This year, my friends are scattering across the country for top institutions like Stanford University, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and Brown University - and all this before regular decisions even come out. The strength and quality of our public school education is undeniable mainly because of our educational programs.
I encourage all my readers to attend the board meetings and voice their opinions. You can also speak to your counselors to see if there's anything you can do, or contact school administrators with your concerns. And of course, vote Yes on Measure C, the mail-in ballot that voters in the district will receive in April for the new parcel tax of $144 to replace the old one.
Do something to help - don't let your voice go unheard.
Maria Shen, reporting on Generation Y, is a senior at Monte Vista High School. She founded Contra Costa County's Young Bohemians creative writing club and is editor of Voicebox, a literary magazine. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.