Looking for solutions to the school board shortage in Minnesota


This scene – a conversation between a counselor and a student – is a rare thing in many schools in Northland and the country.

In St. Louis, Carlton, Lake, and Cook counties, about half of all schools and district buildings do not have a single counselor, even on a part-time basis – including all nine elementary schools in Duluth.

Of the schools that have staff counselors, most have one, with limited resources.

The American School Counsel Association says there should not be more than 250 students per counselor. In Minnesota, the rate is more than double.

A bill submitted to the Minnesota legislature would require school districts to hire a counselor in each building, which would greatly contribute to reducing the burden of students per counselor.

"One in five teens has a mental health diagnosis and we are sort of the front lines of mental health in our buildings," said Johnson. "I think that once a school has had access to an educational advisor, no matter what their experience, I do not know if they could ever get rid of that post once that." They understood the player we are. "

However, according to Superintendent Bill Gronseth, a building-by-building approach could cost the Duluth School District more than $ 1 million a year.

"Having extra staff would certainly be helpful," he said. "I hope all mandates will have the funding to provide these services."

The stakes are high.

David Thompson, counselor at Hermantown High School High School, said he was convinced that being proactive with mental health in schools could help prevent future tragedies.

"We are firmly convinced that when the very bad things happen in our country's schools, it's almost always a child who feels disconnected and we feel that the more he or she There is mental health support in schools, the more connected children feel, the more teachers are supported and the families more supported, "he said.

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When John Engelking took over as Superintendent at Proctor in 2009, he stated that the school district ranked 50th in state student-to-counsel ratios.

"I thought it was terrible," he said. "We just had to do a better job."

The Engelking administration and the school board are therefore committed to increasing the number of counselors. Today, they have two high school counselors, one at the college, one at Bayview Elementary and a part time counselor at Pike Lake Elementary.

During the 2009-2010 school year, Proctor's ratio of counselors to students was 1 in 452; this has been reduced to 1-358 from the last school year.

"Children come from so different backgrounds today that we must provide them with the support they deserve," said Engelking.

Proctor uses part of his crime tax to pay counselors. According to Engelking, this money can be used for a variety of security initiatives, but they choose to use it with advisors to be proactive rather than reactive.

"If we can identify very early the students who need support or services that we do not have here but that we can point to them and help the families to get that support, we definitely have the feeling that this will avoid any potential crisis situation, "said Tim Rohweder, director of Proctor High School.

Counselors can also help identify learning barriers that could affect a student's ability to focus on education, Rohweder said: "Making sure that counselors constitute the first line of defense is extremely important for the education of the student as a whole. "

Engelking said it supported legislation that would require the presence of at least one counselor in each school, which would reimburse districts the cost of hiring advisers for two years.

"It is really time for our legislature to act and fund some councilors," he said.

Legislative assistance

State Senator Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said her bill to require a councilor for each school building might not be perfect, but that would help reduce the number of councilors per student to Minnesota.

"I know other states like Wisconsin have imposed this requirement," she said.

The legislation would provide the state's money to help pay for these positions in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, but how much has not been specified. The bill has not yet been heard and it is unlikely that he will advance this year.

Dziedzic said that cost should not be the determining factor for whether schools have counselors or not – it's about the well-being of children and, in the long run, of society.

"Everyone is always talking about cost, but you can reverse the problem and say what it costs to our students if they can not get the help they need to lead a healthy and fulfilling life. "said Dziedzic.

Governor Tim Walz told the News Tribune that there may be other ways to tackle the problem.

"We need more resources in schools, on the side of mental health, behavior, and career guidance," he said. "I'm not sure it's a single size that needs to be in every building, I think if you give the resources and creativity to these local school districts, they'll know how best to use it."

Walz added that requiring more counselors poses another problem: finding qualified people to fill these roles.

"In many cases, there are not enough people there, even if we wanted to hire them," he said. "We will have to create a network of people in training and to let these people know that there will be a job for them."

The governor's proposed budget for schools would increase spending by $ 733 million, but a divided legislature would have to reach its own agreement by the close of the session in May.

Local Alternatives

Although none of Duluth's nine elementary schools have advisors, this does not mean that there is no help available in these schools.

"We have social workers and co-located mental health services, so we have private sector counselors working in our schools," Gronseth said. "All local mental health service providers also have partnerships with the school district, so that they provide services directly to the school."

He noted that some of the schools also have social workers in general education and that their roles are very similar to those of counselors. According to the latest data from the Minnesota Department of Education, the Lincoln Park Middle School has a full-time social worker and elementals from Homecroft, Lakewood, Lowell and Laura MacArthur, a part-time social worker, at the University of Minnesota. 39, like the training center in the Duluth area.

Yet even well-equipped teachers already have enough, said Jenny Larson, a counselor at Hermantown Elementary School.

"It's not their training, and we are specially trained as mental health professionals to address this need, know the research and know the best practice," she said.

Geri Saari, a counselor at Denfeld High School, said that when there are no counselors or other resources for students, attendance can drop, school problems could worsen and the entire school environment could suffer.

If there were more counselors, she said that it would be more likely to keep the children on the path that suits them.

"We would be able to adapt things more individually," Saari said. "More children would not fall through the cracks."