WEST CALDWELL, NJ — Approximately 20 Caldwell-West Caldwell parents attended Monday’s board of education meeting to address a proposal to reduce the work hours of full-time Wilson Elementary School guidance counselor Julie Yoskowitz.

Many of the parents questioned why the board is considering cutting five hours out of her schedule, what remedies were considered before the proposal was made and why Wilson Elementary School was chosen for the staffing cut.

Incoming PTA presidents Vicki Gesvelli and Schelli Wilson voiced their concerns about the impact this change could have on the students, stating that Yoskowitz’s is a valued resource among members of the school community. They noted that Yoskowitz is currently a constant presence in the building, and through her professional training and expertise is able to assess dynamics among the student body and faculty members that others might miss.

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In order to remedy the financial burden, a member of the public suggested that the PTA raise funds to cover other costs within the district budget so that the board can redirect the saved funds toward maintaining the employee’s full-time hours. A second suggestion was to eliminate one hour from each of the other four elementary school counselors’ Friday in order to retain the guidance counselor at Wilson for the day that the board is proposing to cut from the current schedule.

Superintendent James Heinegg indicated that the district is committed to the mental health of the district’s students and that the budget in this line item has doubled over the last three years.

“It would be hard-pressed for any other budget to have nearly doubled in an area in three years,” he said. “The district and The Bridge have been working very hard over the past several years to expand mental-health services to elementary school students. While we have been benefiting from the federal grant (more than $600,000 over the course of three years, 2015-2018), we have also been devoting more and more local funds to this work. We are still exploring options for bringing the 30-hour-per-week counselor position up to 35 hours per week, and are hopeful something will work out over the next few months.”

According to Heinegg, the problem is that a grant that has been funding the staffing costs is depleting and The Bridge (the company contracted with the district to provide staffing) is attempting to work with the district to continue providing services as much as possible.  There is currently one full-time guidance counselor scheduled to work 35 hours per week at each of the other three elementary schools, while the one guidance counselor designated for Wilson Elementary School is scheduled to work 30 hours per week for the 2018-2019 school year.

Heinegg explained to the parents that Wilson Elementary was chosen for the staffing cut based upon the caseload of the current guidance counselors. The district is pursuing other grants to fill this void while still looking at other possible remedies within the upcoming school-year budget, he said.

In preparation for the new fiscal year beginning on July 1, the board also approved the hiring of special education consultants, the acceptance of a grant of $264,283 from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the addition of professional development hours, curriculum writing and staffing recommendations.

The next board of education meeting will be held on June 25.

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