Mesa Schools to Eliminate All Certified Librarians

Mesa Schools to Eliminate All Certified Librarians

The Mesa (Ariz.) Public School District is on the verge of eliminating all 87 of its school library media specialist positions over the next three years and replacing them with support staff. Faced with an estimated $20-million reduction in its 2008–2009 operating budget—caused both by a decline in student enrollment and attempts to remedy the state’s $1.2-billion deficit—school district officials will also replace many school nurses with health assistants and phase out a contract with a company that provides speech pathologists to help students with learning disabilities, the Phoenix Arizona Republic reported April 17.

“It comes back to a financial issue,” Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Susan DePrez told American Libraries. “We have never lived through a crisis like this, and we have no choice but to change some of the things we’ve been doing that we’ve been quite happy with for a long time.” She said the libraries would be run by resource center specialists, a “full-time, 40-hour classified position” that does not require a teaching certificate.

Scott Ritter, librarian at the James K. Zaharis Elementary School, said that since he has been working as a librarian less than 14 years, he will be among those who will move into a teaching position in September. “Fortunately,” he told AL, “there is an opening in our school and I will be teaching 4th grade next year.” Media specialists with more experience will be phased out later.

“Librarians have many contact hours with kids and are able to encourage their love of reading and writing,” Ritter said. “It’s unfortunate that some of the certified positions that don’t have contact with students are being kept.”

The decision came as a surprise to many librarians, who were notified of the change the second week in April. “They are just reeling,” Ann Ewbank, education liaison librarian at Arizona State University in Phoenix, told AL. “This school district has done this under the radar.” She added that since librarians are considered instructional support staff, cutting their positions is not perceived as cutting classroom dollars. “They will turn libraries and media centers into warehouses. There will be no collaborative lesson planning, no information-literacy standards, and no library media programming at these schools.”

Ewbank, past president of the Arizona Library Association, hopes to mobilize support for the Mesa school librarians and protest the restructuring at the next school board meeting April 22. “We want to generate enough constituent pressure,” she said, “to tell them that you do not take the largest school district in Arizona with the best record for full library staffing and decimate it.” Although the Republic had reported that the measure would be discussed at this meeting, DePrez said it would not be on the agenda.

American Association of School Librarians President Sara Kelly Johns said in an April 18 statement, “It’s very sad that the students of Mesa will be left behind the rest of the country in their literacy, research, and critical-thinking skills through the elimination of certified school librarians.”

At least 20 state and provincial studies have identified a positive correlation between fully staffed school libraries and student achievement.

Posted on April 18, 2008. Discuss.