School district cuts library positions


Iowa City School District officials recently announced they will reduce several library positions — a move one librarian called a “big mistake.”

At Shimek and Hills Elementary Schools — the two smallest in the district with fewer than 200 students — two full-time librarians will become half-time. Both will keep their jobs because of openings at other schools in the district, said Assistant Superintendent Ann Feldmann.

Seven full-time library secretaries will have their positions slashed to half-time and lose significant benefits in the process, but no one will lose her or his job, Feldmann said.

“We made the decision that we would look at the media centers and so we decided to make the level of staffing more proportional with our building size,” Feldmann said.

West High School librarian Jill Hofmockel emphasized how vital librarians are to students’ educations.

“We teach. We teach a lot more than people might have a perception of,” she said.

Librarians at the elementary level may actually teach children directly while their classroom teachers are holding planning sessions, while librarians at the high school level do more collaborative work with other departments.

Hofmockel said cuts to professional librarian and library secretary positions will both have an impact. Fewer professional librarians will limit how they can pass what’s in the curriculum along to students, while a lack of secretaries may result in children being unable to access library materials and check out books. This can be particularly detrimental to children at the elementary school level.

“If they don’t come out of younger grades loving reading and having a rich and wonderful collection available to them, they’ll be less likely to be enthusiastic readers when they are older,” Hofmockel said.

And Iowa City school libraries have long been nationally renowned. The curriculum developed for Iowa City schools years ago is now distributed across the country and many districts purchase it when developing their own programs.

“We do have an effect; we really, really do,” Hofmockel said.

Feldmann said while she regrets the reductions, they are a necessity as the district struggles to cut $6 million from its budget.

Officials have already cut a safety director position, reduced some summer school, and considered changing the way busing works. Administrators took a pay freeze, and one administration position was cut.

Six classroom teacher positions were cut at the secondary level, and 1.25 positions have been cut at the elementary level, Feldmann said. Teachers will have, on average, another 0.5 students per classroom.

Overall, officials said they’re having a hard time not cutting personnel when so much of the budget goes towards that, Feldmann said.

“We know affecting employees lives is very painful, and we’re doing everything we can to look at other areas besides personnel,” she said. “But when 80 percent of our budget is people, you can’t avoid it.”

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