The School Committee took up the issue of the lack of a library media specialist at East Greenwich High School at its meeting Tuesday night. While Principal Michael Podraza has figured out a way to open the library space itself – technology staffer Donna Wales has moved her office there – it remains without a library media specialist.
“There’s no substituting the lack of a library media specialist in that space,” Supt. Victor Mercurio conceded.
The cut of a library media specialist was made in June. The Town Council level funded the schools this year but did provide some budget relief by taking on some non-educational school expenses (such as the salary for the finance director). Still, the contribution from the town was considerably less than the schools had requested. In June, the School Committee was faced with cutting French at Cole, some athletics, Chromebooks at EGHS or cutting a library media specialist. At the time, according to School Committee Chair Carolyn Mark, the hope was that Cole and EGHS could share a librarian.
“The scheduling threw a monkey wrench into the process,” Mark said. She was referring to changes to teacher planning time made to the schedule at Cole Middle School.
So, in August, it was decided to cut the library media specialist at the high school.
Mercurio said the lack of a LMS at the high school was concerning but that the high school would not lose its accreditation. Still, he said, the accreditation organization (NEASC) would “in all likelihood” tell East Greenwich it needed to “figure this out and figure it out soon.”
School Committee member Matt Plain asked how the lack of an LMS might affect the district’s effort to meet the Basic Education Plan (BEP). Mercurio said he wasn’t sure.
“If we’re falling below our BEP obligation, we would certainly want to contemplate going to the Town Council for a supplemental appropriation,” Plain said, referring to the Town Council’s offer to give over additional funds if the School Committee felt an education requirement was at stake.
“I would cringe to see us go a whole school year without a library media specialist,” said committee member Jeff Dronzek. He also encouraged the committee to consider asking the Town Council for supplemental money.
When Mark opened up the meeting to public comment on the issue, Hanaford library media specialist Beth Gorter spoke of her extensive duties and about the importance of that role both for students and teachers, helping with technology as well as more traditional book cataloguing. But she also addressed the specific needs of high school students.
“The librarian is the person whose duty it is to teach our students, at all age levels, how to be responsible, ethical and efficient users of information, wherever that information comes from and especially if it comes from the internet,” she said. “Having students go from a high school with no certified library media specialist into college is unthinkable.”
“I think it’s just a shame that there hasn’t been another idea of how we get around this,” said resident Nancy Semonian Day. “Kids have only one place they can go for academics.”
“We all understand that the School Committee was placed in an impossible position when the Town Council level funded the budget last year,” said resident Kate Goldman. “But I’m disappoint to see … a lack of innovation … a lack of energy around these issues.”
Goldman referred to a comment made by a resident during the spring about what he saw as an excessive budget line for photocopies and printing, and she mentioned the possibility of negotiating lower electricity rates with National Grid.
Like Day and Gorter, Goldman also touched on spending on athletics. While all three said they supported school athletics, they questioned the lose of a librarian to spending on sports.
“You could take 10 percent off the top of every team,” Goldman suggested.
She encouraged the School Committee to be creative.
“We need to start thinking differently about this stuff.”
Chairwoman Mark said the School Committee would “explore other options.”
– Elizabeth F. McNamara