By Kent Gray

Triplicate staff writer

Del Norte County Unified School District boardmembers are facing a dilemma of reducing teaching staff while putting a new counselor position on salary.

?We?re going to be losing possibly 12 teachers and 150 students,? said boardmember Bill Parker. ?I don?t see how we can justify dumping 12 teachers and hiring new positions.?

The problem was outlined last night at the Del Norte County Unified School District meeting as Lori Bomke, director of fiscal services, and Assistant Superintendent Rodney Jahn spelled out projected future budget woes, for the 2002-03 and 2003-04 fiscal years, and enrollment declines that will require eliminating the teachers.

Jahn described next year?s projected budget as ?doom and gloom? when cost-of-living adjustment revenue increases were compared with increased salary and benefits expenditures. In the projection, revenues were relatively stable while expenditures are nearly triple.

?Our plan will be to reduce staff by attrition as certified employees retire or resign this spring and summer,? Jahn said in his written report to the board. ?For the high school, it is also recommended that if the pupil-teacher ratio continues to drop during the school year as significantly as it has in the past, an additional reduction might be necessary at the next semester.?

At the same time, Ruth York, director of educational services, said the district is required by law to provide a counselor for emotionally disturbed students.

In the past, these services were provided by the Del Norte County Department of Mental Health, but because of recent cutbacks the services have been cut.

?By law, I have to provide these services for those children,? said York. ?This is probably the cheapest way to do it.?

Boardmember Steve Parke agreed with York, saying that delaying the hiring of a counselor may force the district to contract out to an independent counselor at a rate as much as $60 per hour.

?This is not something we should even be considering saying no to,? said Parke. ?Because if we don?t move ahead with this now it will cost us a lot more down the road.?

Superintendent Frank Lynch predicted more positions may have to be added in the future.

?As fewer and fewer services will be offered to us by the county, we?re going to have to pick up some of these services,? said Lynch.

Chair Bob Berkowitz told York, ?You can?t say no and we can?t say no? to hiring the counselor. With Parker abstaining, the board voted to approve the new position and directed Jahn to research a way to pay for the new position without dipping too heavily into district funds.

York said she will be interviewing three ?qualified individuals? for the position today.

On March 28, the board will decide how to fund the new position.