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 2008-09 operating budget--caused both by a decline in student enrollment and attempts to remedy the state's $1.2-billion deficit--school district officials also plan to replace many school nurses with health assistants, 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.
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."
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. …