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November 22, 2014

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Media Specialists’ Role Endangered in Florida

EndangeredLibrarian ss Media Specialists’ Role Endangered in FloridaSchool media specialist positions are being hit hard across the Sunshine State, with school librarians finding their positions renamed—and, in some cases, their jobs re-assigned or terminated—for the coming 2013–2014 school year. From Citrus County to Pasco County, some of Florida’s school districts have completely changed the way they now view the role of a media specialist.

In the Sarasota County School District, all high school and middle school media specialists have been cut for the 2013–2014 school year, according to Gary Leatherman, communication director for Sarasota County Schools. Of the 12 positions, 10 took teaching assignments, and two were hired in roles where they will now coordinate scheduling, testing and progress, he says. Aides will now staff the media centers. Sarasota cut its elementary school media specialist position in 2010.

Marion County Public Schools has cut 15 of its 30 elementary school librarian positions for the 2013-2014 school year, although 11 of those positions had been vacant due to a hiring freeze for the last three years, according to Kevin Christian, the district’s public relations officer. The remaining 15 professional media specialists have been assigned two schools each, and will be staffing these locations with the help of paraprofessionals.

In Pasco County, the school district has done away with the media specialist role and created a new position called an “information communication technology literacy coach,” according to Linda E. Cobbe, director, communications and government relations for the district school board of Pasco County. Former media specialists have since been “hired for the new positions or were placed in other classrooms or appropriate jobs,” Cobbe tells School Library Journal.

Although retaining jobs is laudable, putting media specialists inside the classroom is not an ideal solution, says Lynette Mitchell, a library media specialist for the past 22 years, 13 of those years at Crystal River High School in Crystal River, FL.

“People with tenure can’t be let go,” says Mitchell of why she believes many media specialists around the state are being re-assigned. “But putting people who have no classroom experience and haven’t been teaching the curriculum into classrooms with 20–25 kids?”

Elementary and middle school media specialists had been potentially on the chopping block for the 2013–2014 school year to help close a $2 million budget gap in her district of Citrus County, FL, Mitchell says. But, like in other counties, the roles were re-named. Now “teacher on special assignment/media” is the new title, which means the position could now be staffed by a teacher with a media center background—but it also could be filled by someone who is just out of school, says Mitchell. A request for comment to the Citrus County School District was not returned.

“I think they want to change the name because they wouldn’t have to keep the person who was presently in that position,” Mitchell says. “We have tenure. We have a special services contract. It opens the door to yearly people. If you’re not grandfathered in, you’re always on an annual contract.”

On a positive note, Mitchell has not yet heard of any media specialists in her district who have yet been let go or re-assigned, and school board members tell her they do not want to see these new positions on the cutting block. “They said, when budgets come up, they want media specialists’ jobs off the table,” Mitchell says. “This should be the last time we have to look at it.”

However, she admits, “Board members change. So we never know.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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  1. Bookworm51485 says:

    You should mention Miami-Dade county too. They’re not being as overt about what they’re doing, but true Media Specialists are being an endangered species. They’ve decided that the position is not a given one (meaning funded by the county) and instead will be tossed into a pool with several other positions, all non-instructional unlike the Media Specialists (things like custodians and CAP counselors and the Assistant principal) and giving principals the discretion on whether or not they want to fund the position. Most are choosing to remove their degreed Media Specialists and replacing them with clerks or teachers who aren’t degreed (so they can do two jobs at once), and in the case of one school, using a parent volunteer. Of course, they are all still called Media Specialists, so people have the illusion of still having a Media Specialist, but more schools than most realize are staffed by clerks. Some schools, unfortunately, are choosing to just close their libraries down completely. One of the other things they’re favoring is making the Media Specialist do double duty, where the library is seen as secondary. So they’re forced back into the classroom, but also expected to run the Media Center on the side, when they have time. Understandably, most are just choosing to go back into the classroom 100% of the time. It doesn’t pay to work two jobs at once.

    Miami-Dade has a serious problem on it’s hands and fighting it is a dangerous thing because they can and will mess your life up. The Media Specialist at one of the high schools actually offered to take up the cause because she was retiring and knew they couldn’t touch her, but she wanted bodies to show that there was support for the issue, but people were afraid to even do that much. It’s that dangerous here.