School libraries to keep hours, despite staff cuts

Paraprofessional hours increased to fill voids

May 13, 2009

South Milwaukee public school libraries will continue to have before- and after-school hours despite a reduction in the number of full-time librarians in the district.

The School Board, which decided in February to cut one of two librarians from the 2009-10 budget, agreed May 7 to increase paraprofessional time for the libraries to help maintain services while reducing costs.

The paraprofessionals have experience working in libraries and associated duties but are not licensed like librarians. Librarian Deb Semrad would prepare lesson plans for the library classes taught by the paraprofessionals.

Library Secretary Sue McAtee and Middle School Library Aide Lynn Freimark, concerned about cuts to library staffing, spoke to the board about the importance of before- and after-school time for students.

"We are a district where 30 percent of our students at the high school and middle school are (getting) free and reduced lunch," McAtee said, referencing a program for students from economically disadvantaged families. "So these kids need the opportunity to have supervised resources open to them."

McAtee said she sees 30 to 35 students every morning in the high school library, finishing projects, printing papers and researching topics. Freimark said 30 to 50 students visit the middle school library each morning.

Jennifer Sielaff, director of personnel, administrative and legal services, said the district is committed to maintaining the libraries' current hours.

To make that happen, the board unanimously approved increasing the hours of the paraprofessionals at Blakewood, Rawson and Lakeview elementary schools and the middle school, and to replace a high school library secretary position with a paraprofessional position.

In addition, the Instructional Media Center secretary position will be increased from three to six hours a day.

The paraprofessional time at E.W. Luther did not have to be revised to accommodate sufficient access to the libraries under the new structure.

The cost of increasing hours and hiring additional staff was built into the preliminary budget the board voted on in February.

However, librarian Eric VanErt, who will teach American government and current events next school year, said he feels the district's plan does not meet Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction guidelines for public schools.

A state statute specifies that library media services for students in kindergarten through grade six are to be performed by or under the direction of licensed library and audiovisiual personnel, and that in grades seven through 12, they are to be performed by such personnel.

VanErt maintains this means the middle school and the high school each need a licensed librarian.

Sielaff, however, did not concur with his interpretation of state rules.

"The statute does relate to librarians in these libraries but does not mean they need a full-time librarian," Sielaff said, adding that she feels the district's plan of having Semrad based at the middle and high schools will meet state standards.

Patrick Gasper, communications officer for the DPI, said the DPI cannot comment on whether the district's plan passes muster without fully examining the plan, which it would do if a complaint is filed.

Julie Ann Marra can be reached at (262) 446-6634.

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