“We’re Moving in the Wrong Direction”

Will Rising HR Costs Lead Tempe, AZ, Unions To Cut School Librarians?

Andrea Falkenhagen, “Tempe Union threatens budget cuts,” East Valley Tribune, April 30, 2007.

Colleen Sparks, “$1.7M cut suggested for Tempe (AZ) union; Staff members urge board to protect jobs, put students’ needs first,” The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), March 31, 2007.

Rising health insurance and retirement costs, together with declining enrollment, are forcing the Tempe Union High School District’s governing board to cut some expenditures for the 2007–08 school year. A million-dollar budget shortfall has librarians worrying about their jobs.

Several weeks ago, Superintendent Shirley Miles introduced a budget draft that would cut $1.7 million in expenses—including halving the number of librarians at each school.

Last week, though, the district learned it would receive more in state funding than previously expected, so Miles was able to spare some of the positions that had been on the chopping block.

But three full-time librarian positions remain among the budget casualties. Miles proposed keeping two librarians at the district’s largest schools: Mountain Pointe, Desert Vista and Corona del Sol. The other schools would be left with just one librarian.

Educators who spoke against the cuts at a meeting last week said librarians do much more than stock the library shelves. They help teachers select appropriate materials and help students find credible sources, formulate thesis statements and properly cite research – skills necessary for college, said Katie Carver, an English teacher at Corona del Sol High School.

Supporters of the educators said that with the amount of information available on the Internet, those skills are more important now than ever before.

“The suggestion to cut teacher-librarians is made nearly every time there is a budget shortfall,” said a visibly frustrated John Olson, a librarian at Desert Vista High School. “We had two librarians in the 1960’s and ’70s … now we’ve got computers and databases, and cut them? It just seems we’re moving in the wrong direction.”

Board member Michelle Helm said she would not be able to support cutting librarians and other jobs. Instead, she urged the district to brainstorm ways to make money, including advertising on school buses and leasing land.

Miles said the district had talked about those ideas, but advertising on buses and leasing land would not bring the district enough money quickly enough to balance next year’s budget.