Modesto City Schools (MCS) is set to end all library instruction for its elementary schools for the 2014-2015 school year—while keeping the school library opens with library assistants. Nine certified school libraries have already received notices from MCS warning them their jobs are likely to disappear for the coming school year as a proposal made by the district to end school library skills instruction passed through the Board of Education (BOE) earlier this spring, and is now set for adoption at the June 16 BOE meeting, according to Virgina “Ginger” Johnson, MCS’s associate superintendent.
The decision stemmed from the district and the board’s belief that students needed more computer training, including keyboarding and how to use search engines, says Johnson, particularly with online testing related to Common Core. The only time they felt could be substituted was the 30 minutes a week each first through sixth grade student spent with school librarians learning skills including research, she says.
“In a perfect world we would have kids have everything,” she says. “But we have so many minutes a day.”
Modesto, a town located about 91 miles due east of San Francisco, has a population of about 208,107 people with approximately 30,000 K-12 students served by 22 elementary schools, four junior high schools, and seven comprehensive high schools, according to MCS’s website. Certified school librarians will remain on staff at the junior and high schools for now. But Modesto is hardly the first city in California to cut school librarians from its staff.
According to the most recent statistics from the California Department of Education, just 804 teacher librarians had positions across the state in the 2012-2013 school year, with numbers dropping every year since the 2007-2008 school year when 1,253 were on staff—a nearly 36 percent drop, and a ratio today of nearly 7,400 students for each teacher librarian. For context, Los Angeles Unified School District has more than 900 schools alone.
Johnson emphasizes that school libraries will remain open—which the Board was emphatic about, she says. Amy Elliott Neumann, vice-president of Modesto’s Board of Education, agrees and says that school librarians were already not in the school libraries, which were run by assistants who checked in and out books. And although the libraries are open each week, not every school has them open full-time, she adds.
“Our libraries are still open and still available to the kids,” says Neumann, elected to the Board in 2011, and currently has a fifth grader in elementary school. “The libraries are still there, and there’s still a librarian there. It’s just a credentialed teacher we are talking about eliminating.”
The nine teacher librarians are being offered the opportunity to vie for the new positions in computer instruction. Johnson says some of the librarians are already meeting with the county to get their credentials, and that all of them have voiced that they believe they can do the jobs. She says they all should have the opportunity to have a job in the district.
“They would be reassigned if they have the appropriate teaching credential,” she says. “It is not the district’s intention to lay off anyone if they don’t have to.”