School board OKs library cutbacks

BY MAGGIE PETERS | MAY 13, 2009 7:30 AM

The Iowa City School Board on Tuesday evening decided to cut back on teacher-librarians and media secretaries and to increase the student-to-teacher ratio.

The board had decided to postpone a vote on April 28 to reduce librarians to half-time status at Hills and Shimek Elementary Schools, in addition to cutting hours and benefits for media secretaries at all but six of the district’s elementary schools.

Included in the vote was an 0.5 percent increase in the district’s student-to-teacher ratio. The moves are expected to save the district $158,000, officials have said.

Despite many community members speaking out against the cuts and holding signs that read “Save Our Teachers” and “Your Decision Will Follow You,” board members said they felt they had no choice but to make the cuts.

“I feel it would be irresponsible of us not to make further cuts at this time,” said board member Tim Krumm. “The cuts will only cut deeper, and the ratio will be even worse if we don’t make some cuts now.”

Connie McCain, a teacher-librarian at Lucas Elementary, spoke to the board before its vote, highlighting the importance of the position at each school.

“It has been made clear to the public that cuts are being made in places where it doesn’t affect the classroom, but this is not one of them,” she said.

Board member Gayle Klouda said officials understand the importance of teacher-librarians.
“It’s not that we are cutting the librarians in order to not cut more important staff; we also increased the ratio, which means there will be fewer teachers next year as well,” Klouda said. “We have a responsibility to stay out of the red, and there isn’t any other place to go on this.”

Mike Cooper — the only board member to vote against the cuts — said he wants a more definitive projection on future expenditures in the district before voting on cuts, noting a more cost-effective schedule and energy-saving tactics.

Community members, including students and parents, also came out in force to ask questions and give suggestions about the possibility of closing Roosevelt Elementary.

Katrina Dion, a junior at West High and a Roosevelt alumna, said Roosevelt made her interested in her education, especially reading, at a time when she did not care about school.

“Roosevelt opened me up to education that I had never seen before,” she said. “The staff was always there for me and always pushed me to my potential.”

Community member Christine Denburg cited a blog post by former School Board member Nicholas Johnson in which he states many opposing views on the plan to close Roosevelt.

Denburg said small class sizes shouldn’t be part of the discussion, and closing Roosevelt could lead to closing other older schools in the district. She also noted the school infrastructure local-option sales tax approved by voters in 2007, which promised the district would use the revenue to refurbish and remodel old neighborhood schools, and the possibility of allowing a private company to profit from building a new school while a neighborhood and families suffer from the closing of another.

The board held a closed work session on the Roosevelt issue at the end of the regular meeting. Superintendent Lane Plugge said there would not be a decision on the proposal this week.

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