Montgomery County schools are developing a severe shortage of psychological counselors, school officials told a County Council committee yesterday. The committee nonetheless recommended school budget cuts that could cut even more into the treatment of special education students.
In a combative three-hour session, the three-member education committee eliminated $133,000 from the school system's spending request next year for special education students.
The cuts, which fall under a category funded fully last year by the federal government, could trim as many as six special education teachers or psychologists from the program, school budget director Ken Hill said after the meeting.
The action brings to $596,000 the total recommended for removal from the $39.2 million special education budget request for next year. The recommendations now go to the full seven-member council, which will begin deliberations tomorrow on the school system's total $373.4 million request.
In making the cuts, education committee members were careful yesterday to point out that they were not recommending any specific position cuts. But Hill said later that because the cuts were made in a certain category that included psychologists and teachers, those most likely would be the positions cut.
Raphael Minsky, head of the school system's diagnostic testing, said the system's 42 psychologists test more than 2,600 students each year and that there is a backlog of about 400 students who have not yet been tested. Some of these students, he said, have waited up to six months. He said others are waiting at home and not in school because their disabilities are so severe, while others are still enrolled in regular classrooms where their special needs cannot be met.
A child typically is recommended for psychological testing when the student's teacher and principal have concluded that the student should be placed in some type of special education program.
"The whole thing is in a crisis," said Minsky. "Parents, kids and teachers are going through all kinds of agony because decisions are not being made quickly enough."
Montgomery has the highest number of students per psychologist of any school system in the Washington area, Minsky said. Fairfax, he said, has one psychologist for every 1,887 students. Arlington has a ratio of one psychologist to every 1,817 students. Montgomery has one psychologist per 2,179 students.
In addition, he said, there is only one psychologist who speaks Spanish and no psychologists who speak any East Asian language, despite a large influx of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees into the school system.
Jacqueline Rogers, the county's budget director, immediately defended the cuts, however, saying the school board's proposed budget was $6.5 million more than County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist has recommended.