School Counselors Face Layoffs, Need for Services Grows

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Detroit--At a time when societal changes are placing increasing demands on school counselors, guidance professionals throughout the nation are finding their ranks depleted by layoffs.

That was a major theme at the American Personnel and Guidance Association (apga) annual convention, which attracted 8,000 career professionals to this city last week.

'Latch-Key' Children

According to leaders in the guidance field, the increasing number of single-parent children and "latch-key" children (those who return from school to an empty house because both parents are working) has created a greater need for child counseling at all levels of education. No longer can the profession be associated strictly with the task of college and career guidance, they argue.

But while there are more children today who appear to require more kinds of help, there are fewer counselors. Tight school budgets throughout the nation have forced the layoffs of thousands of guidance counselors.

"It's back-to-basics time in schools, and that means there is no more room for the human elements of the education process, like guidance and counseling," said James Stiles, a school counselor from Lansing, Mich., and president of the American School Counselors Association (asca).

Mr. Stiles's group is one of 13 divisions of the apga, which also includes counselors in religion, mental health, and other areas. According to apga's president, Louise Forsythe, school counselors could become an endangered breed in the 1980's.

"Schools across the nation are running out of money," said Ms. Forsythe, a Quincy, Mass., counselor. "The easiest thing for school boards to do is cut out the people not standing before classrooms. That means janitors, bus drivers, and now, guidance counselors."

Although there are still about 65,000 guidance counselors in public and private schools in the United States, Mr. Stiles said the number is shrinking fast. Membership in his own organization has dipped from 16,000 in 1976 to 9,000 today.

"We had 66 counselors in Lansing when I took a leave of absence two years ago to take my asca post," he said. "Now there are 40 counselors left. When I leave the presidency next year, I don't know if I will still have a job in Lansing."

Mr. Stiles goes so far as to call guidance "a dead profession. There are just no jobs available anywhere."

In fact, there is still some need for guidance counselors in the fast-growing Sunbelt states, although salaries there are generally lower than they are in the North. Guidance counselors are generally paid on a par with teachers, and, in most areas, are members of teacher unions.

Representatives of a few Southern school districts were recruiting for counselors at the Detroit convention. There was no recruiting conducted by any Northern school districts.

In fact, many veteran school counselors used the convention to investigate other ca-reer opportunities. Among the most popular workshops and exhibits were those showing counselors how to use their skills and school experience to find jobs outside education.

The director of the Continuum Center at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., Jane Goodman, came to the convention to speak on adult counseling. Instead, Ms. Goodman found herself besieged by school counselors wanting advice on their own careers.

"The people who normally perform the counseling now often need counseling
themselves," Ms. Goodman said. "They are terrified about their own futures."

Layoffs of counselors are coming at a time when their duties in schools are changing. In addition to dealing with an increasing number of troubled children, counselors are expanding their role beyond the traditional career and college advice.

"Counselors are now active in elementary schools, helping students as young as six years old explore their interests, aptitudes, and career opportunities," said Ms. Forsythe. "We have found that the best way to help children avoid being locked into an unpleasant career is to have them explore all the options as early as possible."

The apga is lobbying hard for the "Elementary Guidance Incentive Bill" now in Congress, designed to encourage the use of guidance counselors in early education. The bill would provide federal matching funds and grants for programs in public elementary schools that might otherwise not be able to afford counselors. But it is opposed by the Reagan Administration and the Education Department and is given little chance of passing during the current session of Congress.

Bright Spots

Guidance professionals here, however, despite the abundance of bad news in the profession, were also able to point to a few bright spots in the nation:

New York City recently opened six "outreach" centers for high-school dropouts designed to improve the skills of dropouts and their attitudes toward learning.

Los Angeles school officials approved special counseling programs for students in all-black schools to ease the effects of racial segregation.

The Houston Independent School District started offering special counseling programs for 1,250 children of migrant workers. The program is funded by a $480,000 annual grant from the state of Texas.

"There are a lot of good things going on," said Ms. Forsythe, "but we have to work harder to present them. Those of us in counseling must sell ourselves to parents, the community, and the people who employ us, or we may all be out of work."

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