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Hartford Students Protest Layoff Of Guidance Counselor

By JODIE MOZDZER | The Hartford Courant

January 29, 2009

Dozens of students from the Kinsella Magnet School of Performing Arts stood outside in the cold Tuesday night, chanting in support of their guidance counselor, Sarah Walton.

The students marched to the board of education meeting at the Sport and Medical Sciences Academy on Huyshope Avenue from their school on Locust Street in a demonstration for Walton, who has been laid off by the district, effective Feb. 17.

"She's brought us too far just to leave us," said eighth-grader Magdaly Rios, referring to Kinsella as "a big family."

A drop in enrollment across the district, combined with a new system of budgeting, has created a ripple effect that bumped Walton, the guidance counselor with the least seniority. Six people in the teachers' union, which includes guidance counselors, had received pink slips as of Wednesday, according to union President Andrea Johnson.

"The fact that it's six instead of 60 ... is it better? It's never better," said Johnson. "Any number is, of course, upsetting."

The new budgeting system allocates money for each student, instead of each school. The funds are weighted based upon the services that students need. The method was introduced last year as a way to distribute funds more fairly.

But when 500 students left the district this summer to attend new interdistrict magnet schools opened by the Capitol Region Education Council, money budgeted for those students was pulled from schools.

Since final enrollment figures were calculated in October, principals have been trying to adjust to their new budgets in some cases, eliminating positions such as extra guidance counselors, or programs, such as band.

Johnson said that 89 teachers have been transferred across the district, often uprooting people from classrooms four months into the school year.

"That's the devastating part," she said. "In January, there are transfers that affect hundreds of kids and 89 educators."

In some cases, including Walton's, the school where a staff member was laid off is not losing the position. Kinsella did not cut its guidance counselor position, but because Walton was the last counselor hired by the district three years ago, she was the one to receive the pink slip. She will be replaced at Kinsella by another counselor, although Johnson said she did not know who that would be.

"These situations are handled on a straight seniority basis," Superintendent Steven J. Adamowski said at the board meeting, responding to the crowd of parents, students and teachers who turned out to speak about the situation.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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