Reacting to concerns from upset school district superintendents, the State Board of Education has decided to slow down on an expensive proposal requiring districts to hire more school counselors.

Superintendents, district representatives and school counselors packed the board's curriculum committee meeting room at 7:30 a.m. Friday to let their voices be heard.

"In a perfect world, we would have the high ratios and the money to fund it," said Christen Richards-Kong, secondary guidance specialist for Jordan School District.

After a recommendation from the curriculum committee Friday afternoon, the board unanimously approved forming a group to study the counselor proposal issue.

The board is considering a rule that would require one counselor per 350 junior high and high school students. Currently some schools have a ratio of 1:600.

Further, the proposed rule states counselors shouldn't be doing clerical work such as administering tests or changing class schedules.

The newly formed counselor committee will look for ways to implement the proposed rule and address the goal of the board but still meet the needs of school districts. The committee will be composed of Utah State Office of Education staff, superintendents, school counselors, teachers and local school board members. They will be named next week.

Superintendents passed a resolution earlier this week decrying the proposal as an "unfunded mandate."

School counselors in Utah earn an average $60,455 a year, including benefits. Granite School District would have to hire nine counselors to meet the requirement, resulting in a bill of over $500,000.

"It's going to be very difficult to bite that off all at once," said Granite district Superintendent Stephen Ronnenkamp.

Jordan district would have to hire 27 new counselors to meet the proposed rule. And with the district being split, each side would likely struggle even worse to comply with this new rule, said David Stoddard, Jordan district area executive director over the Riverton and Brighton K-12 feeder systems.

"We're facing a situation here," Stoddard told the curriculum committee.

Board member Thomas Gregory, Provo, suggested perhaps making newly formed school districts exempt from the new counselor rule for the first year or two of operation.

Board member Dixie Allen, Vernal, toyed with the idea of softening the proposal for districts with a gradual implementation of one counselor to 400 students.

Tamra Larsen, president of the Utah School Counselors Association and a counselor in Ogden School District, hopes to be on the committee. She wants to see graduation rates increase, among other things.

"If kids know about the opportunities they have, that they can succeed, that we are there for them, they are more likely to stay in school, graduate and go on to college," Larsen told the curriculum committee Friday.

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