Two HMX Guidance Counselors Administratively Reassigned

by Judy Silberstein

(November 15, 2007) Two of the four guidance counselors at the Hommocks Middle School are not in school and have been “administratively reassigned,” according to two messages from Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried sent to parents on Friday, November 9. Rumors about the missing counselors had been circulating since they failed to appear at school on October 29.

Dr. Fried characterized the reassignment as a “personnel matter” and “for this reason I cannot provide you with specific details.” However, his letter states that “at this time I have no reason to believe the health and safety of any child has been put at risk.” He also addresses steps that Hommocks Principal Dr. Seth Wetizman has taken to ensure that all children and parents receive counseling services.

The two guidance counselors are Haruko Hirose and Elizabeth Denhoff. Ms. Hirose was hired in 2001 and received tenure in 2004; Ms. Denhoff was hired in 2003 and tenured in 2006. Their students are receiving support from the two remaining counselors, both new to the district this year, Evan Stern and Stacie Tramontozzi, and from the school social worker, Adonis Calderon, and the school psychologists, Jolita Gudaitis, Lillia Ramos-Dries and Celia Anon.

According to Elizabeth Denhoff, one of the two counselors on administrative assignment, she first learned there was a problem on Sunday, October 28, when she received a call at home telling her not to report to school the next day and to come instead to the superintendent’s office. “Up to that time, I had no idea,” she said. “I didn’t have a letter in my file. I have never done anything illegal or immoral or to endanger a child or a family,” she said.

There was an additional meeting on Monday, November 5 that lasted 4 hours, “and in all of that there was no question of my ability as a counselor,” she said.

Asked if there were possible criminal charges, she said, “Absolutely not - my dealing with children has never been questioned.

Ms. Denhoff was not comfortable providing further details on the issue, but said she is at home, “waiting for a call to come back to work. I miss my kids, I miss my job.” She said she has been receiving “a lot of support” from parents and teachers via calls and emails

Since October 29, she has continued to receive her salary, but has remained at home. According to the district’s 2007 budget, the salary for guidance counselors (without a doctoral degree) begins at $62,964. At step 5, annual pay is $81,763 and at step 16A, the top, it is $118,881.

Mulitple attempts to reach Ms. Hirose were not successful.

An Unrelated Grievance?

Information obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request by the Gazette indicates that on October 4 the Mamaroneck Teachers' Association had filed a grievance on behalf of the counselors protesting a requirement that they attend the sixth grade community dinner on October 25, which is outside of the contractual work day of 8 am to 4 pm and something the counselors had not agreed to do.

It's unclear if the grievance is related to contract negotiations, which are ongoing between the district and the MTA. The previous three-year contracts expired in May.

The spokesperson for the district, Joan Rosen, and the MTA president, Ann Borsellino, both discounted any association between the grievance and the reassignment. Ms. Borsellino said she was “not at liberty to speak” but said she believed that the reassignment “does not have anything to do with the grievance filed. I hope that it doesn’t have anything to do with the grievance – it just shouldn’t.”

Ms. Borsellino also said that the union and the district agreed on the need for a speedy resolution and that the students not be harmed. “I just want it to end – it’s not fair for the counselors left behind, who are trying to not only handle their own workload but picking up” additional students.