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January 21, 2014

County’s middle-school counselors push for extended contracts

CULLMAN — A group of middle school counselors within the Cullman County school system is urging the school board to expand their contracts and increase their overall pay due to a growing workload revolving around schedules and reports.

Melinda Campbell, counselor at Holly Pond Middle School, addressed the board this week to formally ask for all middle school counselor contracts to be extended from nine months to 10 months, which would total an approximately $4,800 increase in pay for each of the system’s six middle school counselors.

Campbell said the contract should be made to match that of a high school counselor, which is already 10 months, due to the fact that both positions have a comparable workload and hours.

“We always tell students that if they need help, to just ask, so we’re trying to take our own advice,” Campbell told the board at a Thursday night meeting.

Campbell said middle school counselors are required to work several weeks in the summer and after the school year ends to compile grade reports and make schedules — though many of those duties fall outside of their current nine-month contracts. She also noted that middle school students need additional attention because they’re making a more awkward transition between elementary and high school.

“We can’t really start doing a lot of these things until the school year ends, and that’s when our contract ends,” Campbell said. “Also, just looking at our society, students have more issues than ever before, and need someone to talk to and to help them through.”

To accompany Campbell’s request, Fairview Middle School Principal Susan Patterson, Holly Pond Middle School Principal Chuck Gambrill and Vinemont Middle School Principal Phillip Mabry have all written formal letters of support.

“Middle school guidance counselors are a valuable resource to students and staff throughout the school year but are also very valued and needed prior to the opening and after the closing of each school year,” Patterson wrote. “To my knowledge these counselors have been performing these duties with little or no compensation and this situation should be corrected.”

Board member Randy Hasenbein said he believes the request is valid, especially considering the counselors are mostly asking to be paid for work they’re already doing outside of their pay scale.

“The way the schedule is set up, you can’t leave when everyone else does and you’re really handcuffed by the timing,” he said. “You’re really already working those days, but just asking to be paid for them.”

Superintendent Billy Coleman said the request would be given full consideration, along with other similar requests the board has received in recent months.

“There’s no question over who deserves it, or doesn’t, because it’s a critical time for students at that age,” he said. “They’ve been overworked for years, and most got into that to help kids, then ended up under an avalanche of paperwork. It does need to be analyzed. Absolutely.”

* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at trentm@cullmantimes.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.

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