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Eight Fort Worth Schools Will Lose Full-Time Librarians

The elementary schools have the district’s lowest enrollment, fewer than 300 students total, and will have to share a single librarian next year. No current librarians will lose their jobs.

Eight schools in the Fort Worth, Texas, Independent School District will have to share a librarian with another campus after a round of staffing changes.

The eight elementary schools are the district’s lowest-enrollment campuses. Fort Worth ISD officials say the staffing changes are necessary to make sure the district is making the wisest use of its resources at a time when enrollment is declining.

But school library advocates say asking campuses to share a librarian leaves students at both schools under-served. And research indicates that students at schools with a full-time librarian perform better academically.

“We’re potentially looking at some pretty detrimental long-term effects of the reduction of this critical position,” said Shirley Robinson, executive director of the Texas Association of School Librarians.

Eight Low-Enrollment Schools Lose Full-Time Librarians

Mary Jane Bowman, Fort Worth ISD’s executive director of humanities and academic support initiatives, said all eight schools that will have to share a librarian next year have a projected enrollment of fewer than 300 students. Those eight campuses are:

  • A.M. Pate Elementary School
  • Maudrie M. Walton Elementary School
  • Riverside Applied Learning Center
  • Kirkpatrick Elementary School
  • Charles Nash Elementary School
  • De Zavala Elementary School
  • Edward Briscoe Elementary School
  • Washington Heights Elementary School

No current librarians will lose their jobs, Bowman said, and no school libraries will have to reduce their operating hours as a result of the change. Librarians from some affected schools will move into vacant library positions on other campuses.

The district plans to use library clerks to staff libraries at the eight affected schools while librarians aren’t there, she said. Library clerks are non-certified support staff members who are trained to work in libraries, but haven’t undergone the same level of training as certified librarians.

Bowman said she’s confident that the change won’t limit students’ access to books, since libraries will remain open for the same hours as before. District leaders will work with campus principals to make sure that the change doesn’t result in a reduction in library services.

Over the past year, Fort Worth ISD’s libraries have been at the center of a controversy over student access to books. All libraries in the district were closed for the first two weeks of school while district staffers reviewed books for age-inappropriate content. District leaders pulled more than 100 titles from library shelves for review for sexual or violent content. District officials confirmed last week that they were in the process of returning those books to libraries, though it’s unclear how many of the removed titles will be returned.

De Zavala Librarian Worries About Access to Services

Teresa Guardiola, the librarian at De Zavala Elementary School, was one of the librarians who was affected by the cuts. When she was notified, she received a list of schools in the district that didn’t have full-time librarians and was told to pick the one where she’d like to work next year.

Guardiola said she didn’t want to leave De Zavala. It takes time to establish a relationship with students at a school, she said. When a school gets a new librarian, students don’t know or trust them well enough right away to come to them with questions or to talk about books, she said. She isn’t looking forward to building that trust all over again.

As worried as she is about starting over at a new school, Guardiola said she’s more concerned about campuses that will have to share a librarian. When a school doesn’t have a full-time librarian, students lose out, she said. For most students, librarians are the one person on campus who represents reading, she said. They’re also experts at connecting students with books they’ll like, she said. Students know they can ask their school librarian about a genre, an author, an illustrator or a specific book, and usually get a good answer, she said.

Students at De Zavala routinely ask Guardiola to find them a book based on little more information than a vague description of the plot, she said, and she can usually track it down. School libraries generally don’t have a budget to buy books based on student requests, she said, so if a student asks for a specific title that isn’t in the library’s collection, she often buys it herself and places it in the library.

Asking librarians to split time between two campuses leaves them with two library collections to manage and two student bodies to serve, Guardiola said. Even if those schools are small, it doesn’t necessarily mean the responsibilities are any less than at a larger campus, she said. For example, if a librarian wants to organize a book fair, they’ll have to plan one for each campus, she said.

“It’s double everything,” she said.

Fort Worth ISD Faces Lean Budget Season

Like many districts across the state, Fort Worth ISD is facing budget constraints due to a combination of declining enrollment, the end of federal COVID relief funding and a lack of new money from the state. At the beginning of last year’s legislative session, Gov. Greg Abbott and lawmakers from both parties emphasized the need to send more money to districts for teacher pay raises and to keep up with rising operating costs. But that proposal became entangled in the debate over school vouchers, and even after four special sessions, lawmakers didn’t reach a deal.

In the meantime, many school districts, including Fort Worth ISD, adopted deficit budgets that included raises for teachers and support staff in the hopes that lawmakers would come through with the money they promised. When that didn’t happen, those districts were forced to dip into their reserves or make job cuts.

At the same time, districts are facing a looming deadline to spend their remaining COVID relief money. That money was intended to help districts bring students back to school safely after campus closures and help them make up ground they lost during remote learning. Districts are required to spend the remaining relief money by the end of September, or send whatever is remaining back to the U.S. Treasury.

The end of that funding is forcing districts to make difficult decisions about which programs and staff to keep and which to cut. In February, Fort Worth ISD announced 133 employees would be laid off, mainly in the technology division. All but four of those jobs were funded with federal dollars.

Students With Full-Time Librarian Perform Better Academically

It’s typical for school districts to cut librarians, along with other non-classroom staff, when they’re in a budget crunch, said Robinson, the school librarians association director. But doing so can have long-term consequences, she said.

Librarians play a key role in students’ school experience, Robinson said. She pointed to research showing a correlation between certified librarians and higher academic achievement. Since 1992, a series of statewide studies in several states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and South Carolina, have shown that students in schools with full-time librarians performed better on state tests than those without librarians.

Many districts hire clerks or non-certified paraprofessionals to staff libraries during hours when librarians aren’t there. But Robinson said doing so leaves those schools under-served.

In Texas, school librarians are required to have at least two years of teaching experience, plus a master’s degree. They’re also required to go through a state-approved training program and pass the state certification exam for school librarians. By the end of that training, Robinson said, librarians are experts in managing their schools’ library collections, building and curating a collection that includes books that appeal to a diverse student population and connecting young readers with books that they’ll enjoy. Clerks and paraprofessionals can check books out, but they aren’t trained for any of those other responsibilities, she said.

Librarians also do a huge amount of work that students never see, Robinson said. They work with teachers and administrators on things like professional development and school-wide literacy initiatives. They also work with parents and community members who need to use school libraries, she said. When districts cut jobs and ask librarians to split time between two schools, they leave them with less time to handle all those duties, she said.

“Librarians do much more than just check out books,” Robinson said. “They are truly essential to classroom and education success.”

©2024 Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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