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School librarians are not being quiet about proposed budget cuts

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

Standing on a chair so she could speak at the lectern to the Federal Way School Board, third grader Victoria Graddon credited the librarian at Star Lake Elementary for her being able to read at the level of a high school sophomore.

Several people, including school-aged children, asked the School Board at its Tuesday meeting to not cut 27 librarians from next year’s budget. More than 100 people attended the meeting.

For more than an hour parents, teachers, librarians and principals addressed the School Board over the proposal to have only seven librarians in the district next year. The change is to save the district $1.5 million as part of a larger effort to bridge a $4 million budget gap. The librarians cut from the budget, and are also certified teachers, would be moved to classrooms next year if the proposal made by Superintendent Tom Murphy is approved later this summer. Library aides would have their hours increased to keep the libraries open during school hours.

Several parents, who either have or had children in the school system, said it would be a mistake to remove librarians because they help teachers find books to fit with their lessons, teach children how to properly research and get many students interested in reading.

How many children don’t have someone at home who encourages them to read, Julian Buffland asked the School Board.

Helen Stanwell said she felt the cut was politically motivated and recommended other employees be cut from the budget including the district’s director of family and community partnerships, the director of community relations and cutting the number administrators in schools.

She was also critical of new programs Superintendent Tom Murphy proposed in the 2006-2007 budget, including researching changing one or two schools to a kindergarten through 8th grade arrangement and starting up the Cambridge Academy at Federal Way High School.

“That’s boutique,” Stanwell, a former School Board candidate, said. “We don’t have money for boutique schools”.

One father called the decision to cut librarians “a cowardly” choice and said if the recommendation was to cut sports even more parents would be at the meeting.

While he liked sports, the man said, his children needed a good education.

Jean Gray told the School Board if it didn’t put librarians back into the budget voters would remove them from office at election time.

Not everyone spoke against the proposal to cut the librarians.

Federal Way High School Principal Randy Kaczor and Todd Beamer High School Principal Josh Garcia read a letter signed by all the principals in the district supporting Murphy’s proposal.

“We have complete confidence that Superintendent Murphy’s decision-making reflects his unwavering commitment to providing all students a high quality education. We believe that, as difficult as these decisions were, they will minimize the negative impact of a $4 million budget cut on the students in our district,” the principals’ letter stated.

Diane Holt, principal at Green Gables Elementary, said while she loved her librarian the decision to recommend cutting librarians came after “hours and hours of dialogue”.

Murphy asked the district’s principals for budget cut recommendations for him to consider. One of those was librarians.

In a telephone interview, Damon Hunter, principal of Saghalie Middle School, said everything was considered and for a time he wondered if his own job would get cut.

Holt urged people not to blame principals, the School Board or Murphy for the cut but to focus on the state Legislature.

“We must form a united front,” she said.

Tentative plans have been made to meet with legislators and Evelyn Castellar, president of the School Board, has requested a meeting with Gov. Christine Gregoire. As of Tuesday night, Castellar said she had not heard back from Gregoire’s office.

District librarians have been active sending e-mails calling for support and organizing demonstrations. Local librarians have also notified an on-line list serve of more than 16,000 librarians of their plight.

The School Board will continue taking public comment during the summer on the budget before making a decision in August.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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