It's a tug-of-war as school district officials and their boards attempt to remain fiscally solvent at the expense of eliminating services designed to lay the foundation for students' futures.
"It's not that districts don't want school counselors, it's just that they can't afford them," said David Kopperud, education programs consultant with the state Department of Education.
"A lot of districts are making painful decisions right now. I've heard from a number of districts who are saying we are going to have to let go of our counselors because of drastic budget cuts, and schools boards are in extremely difficult positions because they know these people are necessary and that students are depending on them."
Counselors are responsible for helping students select their courses, prepare for college and graduate. They assist students academically, emotionally and socially.
Locally, Chino Valley Unified School District board members have approved $19.6 million in budget reductions over the next two school years.
On the chopping block: 23 high school counselors as well as seven junior high school intervention counselors.
"Without a counselor, who is going to schedule a student properly and prepare them for college? Just today I had 30 calls from parents and 40 emails dealing with college and
Mead has been counseling at the high school in Chino Hills for five years and was a teacher 22 years before that.
"We spend hours placing kids in classrooms, and it's very complicated. In high school it's different - you have six classrooms, whereas in elementary you have one."
Mead said if she is laid off, she will most likely go back into the classroom because she has teaching credentials. But half her peers won't be so lucky because they don't have those credentials.
The Chino Valley reductions approved at the Feb. 2 board meeting were a result of the possibility that Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative, which he hopes to place on the ballot in November, might not pass.
The San Bernardino County Office of Education has informed its districts they must submit a budget that reflects their condition should the tax initiative fail.
"The board is committed to bringing back as many positions as they can, as expeditiously as they possibly can, should our financial situation improve," said Superintendent Wayne Joseph in a statement to district employees.
If the reductions do become reality come the fall, Chino Valley Unified will have no high school counselors.
There are already no counselors at the elementary level. At the junior high schools there are intervention counselors which are funded by money sources that have dried up.
Officials said the district is working with the administrators of each high school to determine how best to meet the needs of the students.
"There is nothing finalized at this time," said Julie Gobin, district spokeswoman.
Chino Valley Unified is not alone in this. Last year Fontana Unified approved the elimination of all its counseling program, which consisted of 68 employees.
One of those counselors was Fred Conklin.
For the past 17 years, he was a counselor at Almeria Middle School, and before that he was a shop teacher. When Fontana cut the entire counseling program he was reassigned as a science teacher at Sequoia Middle School.
Conklin said the elimination of comprehensive counseling programs has devastating effects on students' educations and futures because they leave students vulnerable without services to help them.
"California schools cannot take any more cuts. People need to realize that when we don't properly fund education and then cut counseling services of prevention and early interventions, we end up paying a lot more down the road for all of the at-risk students who grow into dysfunctional adults who can't hold a job or end up incarcerated and don't pay taxes," said Conklin, who has worked in the Fontana district collectively for 27 years.
"We really can't afford to cut counseling, and counseling needs to be mandatory in California's Education Code."
Counseling was mandatory for a while, back in 2006 when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a $200 million annual fund to increase the number of middle and high school counselors.
When the Legislature approved the program, counselors in the state rose by 20 percent between 2006 and 2007. However, in 2009, state lawmakers took away the mandatory restriction and informed struggling districts they could use the money any way they wanted.
What that means is now districts "may" have counselors, but they are not required, Kopperud said.
He said most districts don't even have counselors at the elementary level, where they are most needed.
"In California we wait to have counselors in the middle and high school level but a lot of time the problems have developed earlier than that," Kopperud said.
"It's really a shame because I think there are a lot of kids out there who need that extra support and it's impossible for the teacher to do that because they have to be focused on instruction."
As for Chino Valley Unified, Mead said she can't imagine what the next school year will be like if there are no counselors. She worries dropout rates will increase, students will not get the appropriate emotional attention they need and will be misplaced in classes.
"It's one of those jobs where so much of what we do is vital to a student meeting their full potential," Mead said.
"It breaks my heart to think what students are going to lose out on because no one will be there to guide them."