School Librarians On Cutting Block

Board members question elimination of library jobs

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Barbara Underwood

No more elementary school librarians?

Payson Unified School District board members recently expressed concern that a proposal to balance next year’s projected $800,000 shortfall without layoffs included axing the librarian positions at Julia Randall and Frontier elementary schools.

Payson Elementary has a library aide, and not a certified librarian.

“Librarians do play an important part in a school because they don’t just check in and out books,” said member Barbara Underwood. “I don’t feel the board ever voted on taking away librarians,” she said, adding that she was “shocked” to discover that was part of the proposal.

Earlier this month, an elementary school reading specialist had asked the board to reconsider the proposal to eliminate librarians. At that time, the board could not respond because the item was not on the agenda.

District officials in April presented a plan to balance next year’s shortfall with no layoffs, but with 11 positions eliminated through attrition. Employees staying with the district but losing their positions will receive different job assignments.

A shuffle will ensue, the specifics of which remain unknown.

Last week, members said they wanted more information, which they are expected to receive from librarians at a meeting this week.

The current proposal includes eliminating the positions of one middle school music teacher, the district’s curriculum coordinator, the high school’s computer-aided design teacher who also taught weights, and five teaching positions — three of them at the middle school and two at elementary schools.

“What I gave the board was — this is how we don’t RIF anybody,” said Superintendent Casey O’Brien about the absence of reduction-in-force notices in his proposal. He added that if the board wanted to explore keeping librarians, he could present options on how to accomplish that.

However, change in the district is inevitable because of state budget cuts.

Some vacated positions, like the high school’s computer-aided design teacher who taught weights, will be eliminated. That CAD program, however, will switch to dual-credit courses next year in conjunction with Gila Community College.

What will happen to the weights class remains unknown, O’Brien said Thursday.

Curriculum Coordinator Gail Gorry could fill one of the new, federal stimulus money-funded positions to run the Response to Intervention program. The intervention program is a data-driven method of helping more students leave elementary school at grade level.

Mike Buskirk will still teach middle school music, however the school’s other music teacher will instead teach academic classes, O’Brien said.

“Our challenge is going to be maintaining the same level of quality,” despite budget cuts, he continued, adding that the district is fortunate in that it will avoid layoffs this year — unlike other districts in the state.

“My concern is really next year,” O’Brien said. This year, “believe me, we’re not out of the woods yet.” But by next year, the stimulus money will have dried up and many expect the state will still have a budget deficit.

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