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New Round Of Layoffs May All But Decimate San Diego School Libraries

Photo by Megan Burks / KPBS

Above: Parents and educators hold signs reading, "Save Our Schools," at a San Diego Unified School Board meeting, Feb. 21, 2017.

The latest proposal as San Diego Unified grapples with a $124 million shortfall would lay off all library technicians at middle and high schools.

The San Diego Unified Board of Education will vote Tuesday on whether to send some 200 additional pink slips to staff, bringing the total number of potential layoffs next year to about 1,700. The latest proposal would all but decimate the district’s already anemic library system.

It would lay off all library technicians at middle and high schools. They are the only ones currently staffing their libraries. It would also eliminate six out of nine positions in the district's central clearinghouse for textbooks, computers and other library assets.

The proposed cuts are on top of pink slips that went out in March to more than half of the aides who staff elementary school libraries. The remaining aides had their schedules reduced to as little as two hours a week.

"I just can't even imagine how that's going to be cost effective, because there's just going to be so much lost — lost materials, lost time, lost educational experiences," said Elaine Sabetti, the library technician at Pershing Middle School in San Carlos. "I don't know how they can even do it."

District spokesman Andrew Sharp told the San Diego Union-Tribune the district might tap vice principals to help staff its libraries next year. The state requires that teachers and students have access to libraries, whether through an on-site facility or contract with another library, and that an employee holding a library credential oversee its instructional programs.

The district said the additional layoffs are needed because the union that represents library technicians has not agreed to a reduced work year. The district wants to shave 14 days from employees' schedules, which amounts to a 5 percent pay cut.

The California School Employees Association also represents maintenance workers who do heavy work when school is not in session — the time when work hours would be cut.

Susan Kaufman is the library technician at Pacific Beach Middle School. She said she hopes her union finds a solution so she can keep her job, but she understands why it is taking a stand.

"It's like the bully taking your lunch money, and you give it to them because you're afraid, and then they come back the next day and the next day," Kaufman said.

When Kaufman started, libraries had certificated librarians in addition to technicians and aides. But in 2010 the district ended guaranteed library staffing, leaving the decision up to principals. The result was a whittling away of staffing — in some cases down to nothing — at a time when librarians' roles expanded.

Each is responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in books and computers at his or her school. All told, the district spends more than $40 million on books and supplies annually.

Sabetti said she checks out laptops to each of Pershing's 700 students and troubleshoots when they run into technical trouble. The district also sent 16 pink slips to information technology professionals whom librarians can call on for help.

But Sabetti said the cuts would jeopardize more than district assets.

"Around the district, a lot of our kids don’t have internet access," she said. "The only way that they can do research, do their homework, print a paper is at school. They don’t have a smartphone, they can’t just ask Siri."

Kelly Casaday said she left a corporate job to become a library technician at Marshall Middle School.

"It is important for kids to have a place to go, to explore, to challenge, and to create," she said. "I had a kid ask me today, 'Hey, Ms. Casaday, what do you know about white holes in space?' 'Nothing,' I said, 'but we can look it up and learn.' And so we did!"

The district could rescind the layoff notices as it continues to negotiate $124 million dollars in cuts with its employee unions. The new round of cuts would also affect bus drivers and mental health clinicians.

The district says class sizes will still not be impacted next year.

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