Education Matters: Test return policy; counselors per student; teacher salaries; donations vs. fees

As the end of the school year approaches, before it’s too late I want to circle back and follow up on the test return policy at the San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD).

In my April 27 column titled “Reviewing your child’s tests at home,” SDUHSD administrators made it clear that teachers are obligated to send tests and quizzes home upon request, to make it convenient and easier for parents to review them with their kids.

Since then, I’ve heard from far too many parents saying that teachers are still refusing to send tests home. And principals are not helping.

If teachers stall long enough, the point becomes moot. And that appears to be one very effective tactic.

The day after my column ran, Torrey Pines High School parent Michael Robertson, who sued the district for not allowing tests to be sent home, had what began as a hopeful sign.

Robertson said the TPHS principal, Rob Coppo, told Robertson, at long last, that his son’s tests could be picked up in the principal’s office to be taken home.

Then here’s what happened next, according to Robertson:

“Principal says it’s at his office. I ask if my kid can pick it up. He says yes. My kid goes to pick it up, and they say, ‘We sent it to your dad.’ He tells me, and I tell him that I didn’t get them and to go back the next day. He goes back, and they give him a blank test but not with his answers. I tell them we need the tests and his answers. He goes back again to the principal’s office, and they say they don’t have it and he has to go to the teacher. He goes back to the teacher who says he ‘lost’ it.”

And that, Robertson said, is “the end of a disappointing and frankly perplexing story.”

Parents have the right to have their child’s tests sent home. SDUHSD Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Mike Grove said the district can and will compel reluctant teachers to send assessments home for parental review.

So don’t give up or sit still for unreasonable barriers and delays. Go to your teachers and get the tests.

If the teacher won’t deliver, go to the principal. And if that doesn’t work, call Mike Grove directly at the district office.

Give them each one day – no more. And don’t take excuses that serve to delay until the information is no longer relevant.

This is your right, and parents and students are not being pushy or out of line by asking for this – repeatedly if need be.

Student-to-counselor ratios

Meredith Wadley, SDUHSD’s director of school and student services, spoke at the May 11 school board meeting on an agenda item titled “student wellness.”

She said the national recommendation for the ratio of students to counselors is 491 to 1, and the Calif. average is 822 to 1. She congratulated the San Dieguito district for being below both averages, with a ratio of 430 to 1.

She called this “remarkable.”

However, Wadley didn’t cite her source for that national recommendation of 491:1.

Two credible organizations had different numbers. The American School Counselor Association and the National Association of School Psychologists both recommend 250 students per counselor.

At 430:1, San Dieguito is a long way from that 250:1 recommended number.

I was able, however, to independently confirm Wadley’s state average. A chart compiled by the American School Counselor Association shows the student-to-counselor ratio by state in 2013-2014. The only state higher than Calif.’s 822:1 is Arizona at 941:1.

An internal SDUHSD report shows that Canyon Crest Academy has a student-to-counselor ratio of 465:1, La Costa Canyon High School is 459:1, San Dieguito Academy is 475:1, and Torrey Pines High School is 419:1.

The ratios at the district’s middle schools are in the 700s for Carmel Valley, Diegueno and Oak Crest. Earl Warren is 536:1, and Pacific Trails is 602:1.

Again not citing a source, Wadley in her report said the recommendation for students per school psychologists is 1,450:1. She told the board that San Dieguito is below that, at 1,076:1.

But the National Association of School Psychologists recommends one psychologist for every 500 to 700 students.

The NASP also recommends a ratio of students to social workers of 400:1. Wadley said San Dieguito just this year hired four social workers. The district has more than 12,000 students.

Teacher salaries

A comprehensive comparison of teacher salaries county-wide has been released by the San Diego County Office of Education for the 2016-2017 school year.

As expected, given the contract wording that requires San Dieguito teachers to be the highest paid in the county, it turns out they are.

For teachers with bachelor’s degrees, San Dieguito was the highest, with an average annual salary of $61,449 (daily rate of $330.37). The Del Mar Union School District ranked fifth, at $53,000, and the Encinitas Union School District ranked 27th, at $41,142.

Gong back one year, in the county’s 2015-2016 report of teacher salaries for those with bachelor’s degrees, SDUHSD ranked first for those with 10, 15 and 20 years of experience. Average SDUHSD annual teacher salaries, according to the chart, are $101,806 for 10 years, $104,640 for 15 years, and $110,308 for 20 years.

Del Mar ranked third in all three categories: $85,520 for 10 years of experience, $93,606 for 15 years, and $96,301 for 20 years.

Encinitas ranked 17th for 10 years of experience ($73,233), ninth for 15 years ($85,575), and ninth for 20 years ($90,512).

For teachers with master’s degrees, San Dieguito once again ranked first in all three categories (10, 15 and 20 years of experience) – and is about $20,000 higher than the districts ranked second.

Specifically, for 10 years of experience, first is San Dieguito ($111,627 average salary), second is the County Office of Education ($89,832), and third is Del Mar ($88,020).

For 15 years of experience, first is San Dieguito ($114,461 average salary), second is Del Mar ($96,106), and third is the County Office of Education ($95,219).

For 20 years of experience, first is San Dieguito ($120,129 average salary), second is Encinitas ($101,209), and third is Oceanside Unified ($100,306). Del Mar dropped to fifth ($98,668), behind fourth-ranked Cardiff ($100,169).

SDCOE’s 2015-2016 chart of the Maximum Attainable Salary places San Dieguito on top, with a salary of $129,017. This is a daily rate of $693.64, which is more than $100 higher than the second-ranked district.

Second on this list is Encinitas, with a salary of $108,615 (daily rate of $587.11). Del Mar is eighth, with a salary of $104,129 (daily rate of $562.86).

Clearly, with that 12.5 percent raise last year, SDUHSD teachers are in good shape. The jury’s still out, though, on the district’s overall fiscal condition.

Inexplicably, the Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe school districts are not included in the reports for 2015-2016 or 2016-2017. Solana Beach was included in the 2014-2015 chart, but not Rancho Santa Fe.

Donations vs. fees

Here’s an old topic that keeps coming back.

Foundations and high school administrators need to be more clear about what’s a donation and what appears to be a mandatory fee.

Foundations are not allowed to charge for physicals for students to participate in athletics. Flyers are not making it clear that these $25 “fees” are in reality voluntary donations – nor do all flyers state clearly that physicals can be obtained elsewhere.

Also, those caps and gowns for graduation are technically not required. Students may wear whatever they want.

If they do choose to wear the traditional cap and gown, each school has them available on loan at no charge. Information flyers are also not making these points clear.

Athletic team managers cannot demand payment for … well, anything. And that includes riding the bus. Some teams are demanding bus money (typically $100) in order for kids to play their sport, which is illegal.

One volleyball team parent communication reads, “The foundation has asked that everyone get the bus fee in ASAP, or your son may not be allowed to ride the bus to and from games. If they do not ride the bus, they cannot play.”

The longer these tactics persist, the more likely entire programs will be jeopardized.

Note: Just heard from the SD County Office of Education that the headers on the teacher salaries charts that read 2015-2016 were a typo and should have read 2016-2017. -- Marsha Sutton

Opinion columnist and Sr. Education Writer Marsha Sutton can be reached at suttonmarsha@gmail.com.

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