Thursday, March 12, 2009

It’s Pink-Slip Season for California’s School Librarians

American Libraries: 2009 March 11

In what seems to have become an annual spring rite in the Golden State, school boards throughout California have been issuing layoff notices to school library media specialists, as well as other educators and support staff, to ensure that the districts meet the March 15 notification deadline mandated by the state education code. With an $8.4-billion drop in state support to K–12 schools and higher education through June 30, 2010, the California Teachers Association estimated in early March that some 17,800 preliminary layoff notices would be issued to its members; 10,000 were sent in 2008.

“Please, please reconsider some other options that are open to you,” Modesto Teachers Association President Charlie Young urged school board members March 2 before the board voted 5–1 to cut 8.5 library media teachers and eight library assistants. Also scheduled for reduction in force to narrow an estimated deficit of $11.3 million through July 2010 are college counselors and K–6 music teachers. “It has been no easy task,” Superintendent Arturo Flores told attendees, according to the March 3 Modesto Bee.

The library cuts to the Modesto City Schools are particularly ironic in light of the $506,048 Improving Literacy through School Libraries grant MCS recently received for staff development and materials purchases. The district website explains that the funds enabled K–6 library media teachers and library assistants—many of whom are now on the chopping block—to develop standards-based lessons intended to help MCS close the achievement gap of its English-language learners, a districtwide strategic goal.

“The effect of these drastic cuts in personnel will be the undoing of one of the state’s premier library programs,” MCS Library Media Teacher Cindy Bender wrote in a letter published in the March 10 Bee. Serving two elementary schools prior to the cuts, Bender noted that the FY2010 reductions would result in the remaining MCS school library staff being “expected to serve five or more schools weekly” and eliminate media-center visits for “our youngest students, those whose literature development is most important.”

Among the other school districts where library media staff have been notified that they are on the layoff list are:

  • Corona-Norco Unified School District, whose board approved March 3 the issuing of pink slips to its five high-school teacher-librarians;
  • Las Virgenes Unified School District, which okayed layoff notices March 3 to all six school librarians and announced plans to merge media-center duties with technology support for classroom teachers;
  • Lompoc Unified School District, whose board voted February 19 to cut its two remaining school library media specialists and halve the hours of its library assistants.

The big picture

Although a few school boards have reversed course on layoffs—including Madera Unified School District, where library advocates have successfully fought off cuts for three years in a row—the state’s dire fiscal crisis does not foreshadow happy endings all around.

“There has been more discussion this year about actually closing school libraries,” Barbara Jeffus, school library consultant for the California Department of Education, told American Libraries, noting that while the state education code requires districts to provide library services, “There isn’t any teeth in [the code].”

“When school libraries are left unattended, the collections disappear and are not replaced,” Blanche Woolls of San Jose State University library school told AL. Determined media specialists were readying talking points and protest signs to sway decision makers. “Libraries should be an easy sell,” school-library advocate Stephen Krashen mused to AL, lamenting that too few connect the dots between school-library quality and student success.

“It is important that library advocates and supporters make sure that school superintendents, school board members, and their governor understand the importance of using [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] funds to invest in our children by investing in school libraries and librarians,” American Library Association President Jim Rettig agreed March 11.