By Philip Haldiman
When most people think of school guidance counselors, four-year plans, class schedules and college preparations come to mind.
But Patty Davis-Moore, head guidance counselor for the Peoria Unified School District, said the workload of the district’s 28 guidance counselors far outweighs that list.
The district has 42 schools and more than 37,000 students.
“That is the tiniest (part of what we do). We are required to be social workers, test coordinators, master schedule builders, teachers, mentors, mediators, administrators and most importantly, we are advocates for our kids. Kids come to us because they need food, clothes, deodorant and shampoo and sometimes a place to sleep at night, which many of us have provided for them. …,” she said. “A student comes to a guidance counselor when she is done, when she’s had enough. The darkness has closed in and she has given up. But she comes to her guidance counselor because she knows she will be listened to and taken seriously, and that counselor will call the crisis intervention team for the fourth time and will continue to call child services until that child gets what she needs.”
Last week, Gov. Doug Ducey signed a budget that included funds for about a 20 percent raise for teachers over three years, essentially ending a school walk-out that resulted in district-wide school closures over six days. But that does not include funds for guidance counselor raises, some of whom say they take on just as much of a burden to meet children’s needs as certified teachers.
PUSD spokeswoman Danielle Airey said guidance counselors sign a certified teacher contract but they are not counted as a classroom teacher under Mr. Ducey’s definition. This includes the 1 percent raise in last year’s state budget for certified teachers that were not afforded to guidance counselors.
At an April 26 public meeting the governing board considered salary placement schedules for the 2018-19 school year that places guidance counselors on the same salary scale as certified teachers, and PUSD counselors showed up in red T-shirts to plead their case for a salary increase. The salary placement issue was continued and will likely be considered by the governing board May 10.
Guidance counselor Candace Scholtz said when Mr. Ducey proposed the 20 percent raise, she was both ecstatic and disillusioned.
Ms. Scholtz has spent her entire 28-year career in the district as a teacher and counselor. When she started, she said, everybody from teachers to bus drivers to administrators felt valued and part of an integral piece of the school puzzle with equal importance placed on everybody.
“(Mr. Ducey’s proposal) was quite concerning for the rest of us who work so hard every day to feel as if we matter to kids as well. However, I understood that the legislature and the governor are far removed from the reality of an actual school and what happens there daily. Therefore, the slight of being ineligible for this raise inspired me to battle, but I was not hurt personally,” she said. “What I have banked my entire career on, however, is that my district, the Peoria Unified School District, would see it differently, that each of us matters, that each of us have an impact on the future, that each of us are invaluable to the education of each and every student. So you will understand my concern with this budget proposal.”
Minimum experience required for the position of guidance counselor in PUSD includes a master’s degree, a guidance counselor certificate from the Arizona Department of Education and previous classroom experience. However, counselors are paid on a certified teacher salary schedule. Initial salary for a guidance counselor or a teacher with a masters is about $36,263.
Guidance counselor Julie Furhmann, who has 20 years experience in PUSD, including three years as a counselor, said she never had a desire to look outside the district for employment until recently. Ms. Furhmann said it is so disheartening to know that her position requires more education and has more liability but warrants less compensation.
“The level of responsibility and liability associated with this position is significant. When I was a classroom teacher, all those scary and potentially deadly situations were forwarded to the school counselor,” she said.
CFO Ken Hicks said the state funds public education and only allows a finite amount of money. The budget committee spent hours on the proposed pay schedule, which changed over and over because people made strong cases for where pay raises should go, Mr. Hicks said.
“We had people say this isn’t fair and we had people say this is the hand that was dealt to us. But, so everybody knows — for everybody to get the same raise, there is not enough funds for that. So then you have to start making adjustments at that point,” he said. “Good gosh, we are pitting ourselves against each other. It’s class warfare and we are all fighting each other. It’s like the watering hole is getting smaller and everybody is looking at each other. But we are not creating that, we are trying to do the best job we possibly can with what we are given. I have never said that this is fair for everybody. We hear all different stories and all different sides. The reality is there is not enough to give everybody what they deserve.”