News

Budget spares seven more school librarians

By MARGO HORNER

The Mirror

After hours of picketing, hundreds of angry e-mails, pleading letters from a fifth-grade class and a two-hour public hearing, the Federal Way School Board relented on its decision to eliminate 27 librarians from schools — somewhat.

The revised budget, approved Tuesday by a 4-1 vote, cuts 20 librarians instead of 27 as Superintendent Tom Murphy proposed in May.

Elementary schools will have certified librarians on campus part time with the exception of Mark Twain Elementary, which will have a full-time librarian because of the higher level of poverty there, said district Chief Financial Officer Sally McLean.

Middle and high schools will have a certified librarian on campus one day a week. Two librarians will be responsible for those 11 schools.

During the hours when no librarian is present, the libraries will be staffed by a less-qualified library aide, allowing students full-time access to the materials there.

“The libraries aren’t closing. They’re going to be open with library assistants,” board member David Larson said.

The alternative budget saves the district $1.1 million, less than the $1.5 million cut in the original budget.

The average salary for a librarian in Federal Way schools is between $60,000 and $65,000 including benefits, said district spokeswoman Diane Turner.

Twenty librarians who are cut from the budget will be offered classroom teaching positions.

The alternative budget uses $420,000 more for school librarians than the original. That money would have been used to build up the school district’s reserve fund from 2.5 percent to 2.75 percent. The board policy is to have at least 3 percent in reserve.

Board member Charles Hoff cast the lone dissenting vote. He suggested instead taking the money from school athletics, but none of the other board members agreed.

In response, Larson gave an impassioned speech about the value of school athletics.

“I learned about life and I’m a success today because of sports,” Larson said.

“There’s kids in schools that are there for sports, like it or not,” he added.

Several board members expressed regret over having to make the library cuts, but said they had no choice. They blamed the state for giving them a disproportionate amount of funding.

The neighboring Highline School District, for example, receives $3,000 more for each student, Castellar said.

In fact, the district is among the lowest funded in the state, ranking 263 out of 296 districts in total revenue per student in 2004-05. With 22,500 students, Federal Way is the seventh-largest district in the state.

The idea to cut librarians came from a survey of Federal Way school principals, who were asked to recommend areas in their school where budget cuts could be made.

Members of the crowd Tuesday who came to support the librarians were disappointed with the decision, but not surprised.

“We don’t get textbooks, now we’ve lost our librarians,” said Decatur High School senior Hilary McGowan, 17. “They didn’t take in what everybody said.”

The librarian at Decatur helped McGowan find useful resources for school projects as well as recommend books for leisure reading, she said.

Michelle O’Sullivan, a fifth-grade teacher at Lake Dolloff Elementary, said the librarian at her school helps her plan class projects, answers her questions and points her to proper resources. Her job will be more difficult without the librarian’s help, she said.

“She’s my go-to person for everything,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m disappointed that they decided not to reinstate the librarians full time.”

While the budget cuts this year seem drastic, Larson said, it’s only the beginning.

“We spent a lot of time trying to squeeze everything out,” Larson said. “It’s going to be worse next year, just to warn you.”

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