Project Baltimore Investigation: City Schools Face Severe Counselor Shortage

Project Baltimore Investigation: City Schools Face Severe Counselor Shortage

BALTIMORE (WBFF)-- The recent deadly shooting in Florida has sparked a national debate about not just gun control, but mental health, especially in our schools. And Project Baltimore has learned that Baltimore City Schools currently face a severe shortage of school counselors who are trained to spot mental health issues.

A Fox45 investigation found City Schools had 118 counselors in 2014. Currently, there’s 84 counselors, which is a 29 percent decrease.

Keep in mind, many Baltimore City students face a difficult reality, where last year, there was nearly one murder a day. And when students walk to school, they pass blocks of boarded up and vacant homes.

“Not having access to a school counselor really puts students at a disadvantage,” says Eric Sparks from the American School Counselors Association based in Alexandria.

The American School Counselors Association is an advocacy group that trains counselors on everything from helping students with college to coping with a crisis.

“School counselors are extremely important in challenging situations in schools,” says Sparks.

Based off need, ASCA recommends a student to counselor ratio of 250 to 1. The national average is 470 to 1. In Baltimore City, the ratio is 980 to 1, more than twice the national average and four times what ASCA recommends.

“It really is breathtaking when you think of a ratio of that size,” says Sparks.

The Maryland State Department of Education website states elementary schools generally have one certified counselor. Middle and high schools have two to five counselors. Baltimore has 177 schools with just 84 counselors to staff them all.

Baltimore City Schools released this statement:

“School counselors are valued members of school communities, who support students’ academic, social, and emotional development and their planning for success in college and career. City Schools has 84.1 school counselor positions this 2017-18 school year, down from 118.3 in 2014-15. (Note that these numbers differ slightly from those in City Schools’ salary database, as they represent the number of funded full-time equivalent positions as of October 1 in the respective fiscal years, whereas the salary data are based on the calendar year.)

The decline in school counseling positions reflects a decline in enrollment of more than 3,000 students from 2014-15 to 2017-18, as well as a decline in the number of schools (from 188 to 177). More significantly, it reflects the difficult decisions principals have had to make in the face of several years of rising costs and revenue declines resulting from flat funding and decreased enrollment. In some schools, the principal may have chosen to eliminate a counselor position in order to retain a teacher.

Reduced staffing makes the work of supporting students’ social and emotional well-being and preparing them for college and career more difficult. City Schools will continue to advocate for funding to provide the services of highly trained, professional counselors to all students—services that are essential to an adequate education. Maryland’s own study of adequacy indicates that the district is underfunded by $358 million.

To fill some of the gap in the current budget landscape, City Schools has established partnerships that provide mentoring and related services. In crisis response, school counselors may be joined by social workers, psychologists, and other trained staff. In addition, as part of its blueprint for success, City Schools is emphasizing social-emotional learning in schools districtwide to promote positive behavior and conflict resolution.”

To offer some regional context, Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel Counties are all below the national average of 470 students to one counselor.

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