Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bellevue School District to lose its librarians thanks to Legislature's irresponsible budget

A couple weeks ago, when I walked into a Bellevue School Board meeting, I could tell something was amiss. Many people were holding signs declaring "Support Bellevue School Libraries!" At least half of the nearly two hundred or so people at the meeting were there for the meeting were there for the libraries.

Libraries are where students go to find help with homework and class assignments, do research, and collaborate on group projects. Naturally, every library needs a good librarian to keep the place clean, quiet, and well maintained.

The stated mission for the Bellevue School District is to "provide a top of the line college preparatory program for all students." Yet the district has decided it doesn't have the money to employ librarians next year.

The district's decision to lay off librarians has drawn widespread condemnation from parents, teachers, supporters, and community members.

As one college professor declared at the meeting:
It's inconceivable to me that students in Bellevue, Washington will not have access to a high quality school's a scorched earth policy with regard to libraries.
Scorched future policy might be more accurate.

The board member who ran the meeting started by acknowledging the problems caused by laying off the district's librarians.
We really heard the message. We know that there are really powerful undeniable reasons to not redirect [the money]...But [this is] a desperate move given desperate circumstances...We will continue to look at the situation to see if we can do anything about it.
The district is also considering getting rid of elective classes if revenue continues to deteriorate. No thanks to the Legislature, whose members chickened out of giving the people of Washington the power to stave off some of these cuts.

Stephen Miller, a history teacher at Odle Middle School and former head of the Bellevue Education Association, noted that the decisions the district is weighing stem from decisions already made at the state level.
Class sizes are going up next fall, since about sixty teachers have already lost their jobs in Bellevue. Not only do we need librarians, but we need nurses in schools everyday and enough counselors to serve all the students needs. The State Legislature and Governor have failed to amply fund public school and meet the paramount duty of our state.
For the district to continue employing its librarians, it would have to lay off an additional twelve teachers, increasing class sizes even further.

While the Bellevue School District tries to figure out what to do - with only painful options available - lawmakers that represent the area in the state Legislature (Representative Ross Hunter, Representative Deb Eddy, Senator Rodney Tom) are telling constituents they voted for a "responsible" budget.

And when asked why the Legislature didn't empower the people to decide whether state revenue should be increased to offset budget cuts or not, they offer excuses, citing unfavorable polling. Since when has it made sense to use polling as the basis for decisions about our qualify of life?

If, as Representatives Hunter and Eric Pettigrew have claimed, there were twenty five Democratic votes for a revenue option, those twenty five Democrats should have refused to vote for the budget until their colleagues agreed to allow the people to decide. That would have been the courageous and responsible thing to do.

Stephen Miller wants the community to know who deserves the blame:
We need to understand that this is Olympia's fault. Ross Hunter, Rodney Tom, and Fred Jarrett spent all their time this session creating an education [reform] bill which is useless because they are not funding it. What good is an education bill that doesn't address funding now and in the future? We are in the bottom five nationally in class size and aiming for dead last.

Ross, Rodney, and Fred could have taken leadership roles in raising the levy cap for the district, but they failed to do so. If they had taken a leadership role thirty jobs could have been saved, maybe even the librarians. To solve this problem in the long run we need to really look at our tax system.
Tax reform will be key to solving our revenue problem. Unfortunately, it's unlikely the Legislature is going to do anything about this problem on their own. They'll keep on dithering in future sessions while school districts such as Bellevue may be forced to lay off additional staff.

As a high school student in Bellevue, the prospect of libraries closing is more than dismaying. If this a sign of even more horrifying things to come, I fear the consequences to our common wealth could be catastrophic.


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