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Originally published May 20, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 20, 2009 at 10:44 AM

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Some Bellevue school librarians to be reassigned in cost-savings move

Bellevue parents are up in arms over a decision by the school district's middle- and high-school principals to save money by reassigning school librarians to the classroom.

Seattle Times Eastside reporter

Bellevue parents are unhappy about a decision by the school district's middle- and high-school principals to save money by reassigning school librarians to the classroom.

Librarians at four of the district's middle schools, four high schools and one school that spans grades 6-12 are being reassigned to classrooms for the next school year. Most will teach English because that is what they are approved to teach by the state.

The libraries won't close, but they will probably be staffed by an employee with lesser training, such as a library assistant, although the details are still being worked out, said spokeswoman Ann Oxrieder.

The district has been inundated by calls and e-mails from parents who are unhappy with the decision, Oxrieder said.

About 100 people attended a school-board meeting Tuesday to make the case for the importance of the school librarian in the information age.

"My students' research skills are not as strong as I'd like," said Rob Hallock, chair of the social-studies department at Sammamish High School. "Google is the first thing they turn to."

Hallock said the school's librarian does a critical job of vetting good Web sites and databases, showing students the best way to do research, and teaching them to persevere when they don't find what they're looking for.

Other parents and teachers questioned what would happen to the library's valuable collection of books and other resources if there is no one there to manage them.

"If we say we don't need librarians, what's the next thing that's going to go, especially in this complex information age?" asked parent Alice Larkin.

Like all public school districts throughout the state, Bellevue is scrambling to make up a cut in state money after the Washington Legislature trimmed $800 million from K-12 funding for the 2009-10 school year. Bellevue will lose $5.5 million next year, which is about a 3.4 percent reduction in its general-fund budget.

Unlike some neighboring districts, Bellevue isn't laying off any teachers — and the librarians will still have jobs. However, it has cut the budget by eliminating 60 teaching positions through attrition, and trimmed two administrative positions, on top of six administrators who were cut last year.

Shifting the librarians to classrooms will save about half a million dollars, Oxrieder said.

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The librarian decision was made collectively by the principals of the schools, not at the district level, Oxrieder said. In Bellevue, the principals have the final call on how to use the staffing allocated to their schools. Some high schools cut counseling positions as well.

"I just think they really haven't thought this through," said Michael Eisenberg, dean emeritus and professor at The Information School at the University of Washington, who'd heard from colleagues about the changes. Eisenberg said school librarians teach essential information skills, and manage a valuable resource for the school; to reassign librarians, he said, is "not an informed decision."

In an e-mail response to parents who were critical of the decision, interim Superintendent Karen Clark said the district's focus is keeping as many teachers in the classroom as possible. Because of the teacher cuts, some classes will have as many as 34 students next year. The district's priority right now is "to provide additional classroom staffing for these large class sizes or to provide support classes for students with special academic needs," she wrote.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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