Palamand urges hiring of additional counselors

By EVAN YOUNG

Mehlville and Oakville senior high schools need additional counselors who can provide information and encouragement for students curious about college, according to a Mehlville Board of Education member.

Board Vice President Venki Palamand recently asked district administrators to look into hiring one college counselor for each high school, “the sooner the better.”

“In talking with students and staff, it just seems like with one … counselor (per grade level) at each high school, essentially, there’s just not enough time to really talk to students about the importance of pursuing higher education,” Palamand said during a recent board meeting.

Currently, counselors at the high schools each advise from 400 to 450 students, he said. With that ratio, it can take up to six weeks to meet with every student, and those meetings likely are used to discuss academic progress and graduation requirements, Palamand said.

The new counselors would help students choose the college that fits them best and look for sources of financial aid, he said.

He estimated the investment would cost the district $120,000 a year, or $60,000 for each counselor. The money wouldn’t come back to the district directly, but instead would provide a “community service” because students may win more scholarships, Palamand said.

Lindbergh High School, which employs a college coordinator, has seen the total amount of scholarships awarded to its students increase from roughly $1 million in 2000 to $7.5 million in 2008, he said.

That breaks down to about $16,000 per Lindbergh student in scholarship money, compared to $10,000 per student in the Mehlville district, Palamand said.

“Even in that $6,000 gap, if we can get slightly closer, like add $1,500 per student, you’re looking at cumulatively adding somewhere around $1.5 million,” he said.

Adding high school counselors would fulfill an objective in the first phase of the district’s long-term master plan, which was formulated through the COMPASS — Charting the Mehlville-Oakville Path to Advance Successful Schools — community-engagement program.

Some board members indicated they would be willing to “bite the bullet” and dip into the district’s reserves to hire the additional counselors immediately.

However, with district revenues projected to remain flat over the next few years, board member Micheal Ocello urged administrators to look closely at where adding these positions should fit into the district’s priorities.

“I think it’s a great idea, but I think we could all come up with a bunch of great ideas for positions,” Ocello said at the June 25 board meeting. “I would ask for the administration to let us know … if it’s feasible, and is it something we should put high enough on our goals to eat into our reserves and to change the budget process.

“We could talk about social workers and other teachers and classroom size, and all those things that are vitally important to the success of our kids. So from my perspective, I’d like to hear your recommendation, if you think this is something we should do.”

Superintendent Terry Noble said the administration would look into Palamand’s request and provide the board with a recommendation on whether to hire the counselors for the 2010-2011 school year.