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Seattle school district plans budget cuts, including reducing some librarians to part time

Genesee Hill Elementary in West Seattle is one of the schools slated to have a librarian reduced to part time amid Seattle Public Schools budget cuts for next school year.
Seattle Public Schools
Genesee Hill Elementary in West Seattle is one of the schools slated to have a librarian reduced to part time amid Seattle Public Schools budget cuts for next school year.

The Seattle school district has been warning for about a year that it faces a budget deficit in the 2019-20 school year. Now, the district has laid out its plans for making $39.7 million dollars’ worth of cuts, including removing assistant principals from some schools and reducing some librarians to part time.

JoLynn Berge, assistant superintendent for business and finance, said even though the state has increased funding for schools, lawmakers also limited the amount districts can raise through local levies, and that means less revenue for the Seattle school district.  

“There’s all sorts of hard, heart-wrenching decisions on that list that impact every one of our schools and our kids,” Berge said.

In a work session last week, the district presented its list of reductions, including cutting $12.2 million out of school budgets. Two dozen schools will have librarians reduced to part time, including high schools such as Ballard, Garfield and Roosevelt.

The school district is asking voters to approve another operations levy next month. Berge said the cuts will happen even if the levy passes, unless lawmakers vote to increase the amount school districts can collect in local taxes or boost state education funding.

School librarians in particular are speaking out against the planned cuts. They point to research showing a link between having a full-time librarian and higher test scores.

Kate Eads, a librarian at Northgate Elementary, said librarians play a critical role in the life of a school that goes beyond checking out books and helping with research.

“With nurses and counselors, librarians are the front line of social-emotional health in a school,” Eads said. “We know every kid. Every kid comes to us in need. We are the safe place to go, just like the counseling office and the nurse’s office.”

The school district has said it won’t make cuts at schools in Tier 1 and Tier 2 of its equity tier system. That’s a way the district ranks schools by factors such as the number of low-income students and the number of historically underserved students of color. It's meant to preserve the budgets of schools that are most in need.

But Eads said she’s concerned that the cuts to librarians will deepen inequities in the school district. That's because wealthier schools already rely on parent-teacher associations to buy books and resources for their school libraries, and less affluent schools often have limited or no PTA funds to use.

In the current school year, about half of the money for library resources — including books — came from PTAs and foundations, compared with 25 percent from the school district, Eads said.

In some cases, PTAs also pay part of the salary for their school’s librarian, to increase it from part time, and that usually happens in schools with whiter, wealthier populations, Eads said.

“It only would feed the equity issue to leave it to parents to make up for what the district has taken away,” Eads said.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.