Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/08/2011 11:37:48 PM PST

FONTANA – The Fontana Unified School District board, by a 4 to 1 vote, has potentially eliminated all 68 of the district’s counselor jobs, reversing a decision made last week to save those jobs from budget cutting.

In voting in favor of the cut, board member Kathy Binks told an overflow audience of district employees, parents and students, “anything you have called me tonight, I have already called myself … but it’s not about saving people, it’s about saving the district.”

Russell Groenheim, a counselor at Citrus Continuation School, said the board’s decision late Tuesday night has left him “distraught, left behind and with diminished hope about the future of the students.”

Crying outside the John D. Piazza Education Center shortly after the board’s decision to cut counselors was Marissa Ibarra, 17, a senior at Kaiser High School.

Were it not for her counselors, she said she would not have been accepted to the pre-med program at Chico State University.

Counselors also helped her with her father’s death, which happened just before the start of her senior year.

Marissa’s mother potentially lost her job following an earlier vote which eliminated 26 library specialists.

As part of the plan to cut counselors, classroom scheduling and transcript review for students will continue to be provided through the addition of guidance technicians at all secondary sites.

The total savings for eliminating all 68 counselors and
their support staff is $6.49 million, while the cost of hiring guidance technicians is $1 million for a total savings of $5.49 million.

Board President Barbara Chavez said at the beginning of the meeting, “district is facing the worst financial crisis it has ever seen. We need to stand together tonight.”

Alejandro Alvarez, associate superintendent, said the district is facing a potential $11.8 million shortfall in income during the 2011-2012 school year and a $19.7 million shortfall the 2012-2013 school year.

Richard Bruce, president of United Steelworkers Local 8599, said that the board is presenting a “wishy-washy” image to the community by sparing jobs one week and taking them away the next.

Pat Mazzulli, president of the Fontana Teachers Association, asked the board “what happened between tonight and last week? What caused the board to do machete cuts? The board pulled an agenda item which would have eliminated athletic activities and eliminate five high school athletic directors for a savings of $1.9 million.

Board member Gus Hawthorn said “as far as we know this is no longer under consideration.”

Many school athletes, gathered in front of a monitor outside the board meeting room, cheered following that announcement.

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