Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer
Created: 03/09/2011 06:51:31 PM PST

FONTANA – Gullit Acevedo, 17, credits school counselors with steering him away from gangs. So he was shocked when the Fontana Unified School District board on Tuesday reversed a decision from last week and voted to warn all 68 of the district’s counselors they might not have a job next school year.

“It’s terrible,” said Acevedo, 17, who traded gang affiliations for a Fontana High School letterman’s jacket for varsity wrestling and track.

The senior credits counselor Stacie Koolis with changing focus to his studies and sports training with an eye toward community college after graduation.

“I would never have been going to college if it wasn’t for her,” he said.

The Fontana Unified School board’s 4-1 decision late Tuesday night was a stunning reversal of a unanimous vote taken last week, which saved all the counselors from a move to help shore up an $11.8 million shortfall.

‘Saving the district’

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

Board Vice President Leticia Garcia said last week she “felt there was hope” additional funds could be found to reduce the district’s deficit predictions.

But those hopes fell through, she said Wednesday.

“Our backs were up against the wall” as the board faced a March 15 deadline for layoff notices to teachers and counselors, Garcia said.

Those notices are “preliminary,” meaning that the district has the authority to later carry out the layoffs.

Last week the board voted to potentially cut 51 teacher positions.

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.”

Shauna Ricks, a counselor at Truman Middle School, said “this isn’t over. The board is not comfortable with this decision. We have faith in them that they will bring us back. This is not something the board wanted to do.

“Imagining next year without my kids (students) is pretty tough,” Ricks said.

Pat Mazzulli, president of the Fontana Teachers Association, asked the board Tuesday night “what happened between tonight and last week? What caused the board to do machete cuts?”

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 could lose her job, following an earlier vote, which proposed to eliminate 26 out of 37 library specialists.

Two librarian-teacher positions could also be cut.

The district’s adult school, and the district’s two continuation schools could be merged.

FUSD Superintendent Cali Olsen-Binks said Wednesday that library hours at elementary and junior high schools would be cut if the layoffs happen. She has to develop a plan for high school libraries, she said.

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 high schools.

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 savings of $5.49 million, according to the district.

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

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

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.

Sports cuts off the table

The board pulled an agenda item that could have eliminated athletic activities and eliminate five high school athletic directors for a savings of $1.9 million.

But during the meeting, Board member Gus Hawthorn said “as far as we know, this is no longer under consideration.”

But Hawthorn added that there are no guarantees that it would not be reconsidered at some point.

The item to eliminate sports “should never have been on the agenda” and was “not something that had been previously discussed,” said Garcia, the board’s vice president.

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