Dozens of concerned parents and teachers packed into the Monrovia Unified School District's Board of Education meeting Wednesday evening and passionately pleaded with School Board members to refrain from making drastic cutbacks to school libraries.
District officials, who are at the district's two middle schools as well as cutbacks at elementary and high school libraries, took no action Wednesday but insisted their hands were tied by state education cuts that could leave MUSD with a projected $2.7 million budget deficit by 2013.
One by one, teachers and parents of students took to the podium to stress the importance of school libraries and implore the board to slash the budget elsewhere. Some audience members held up signs with messages like "What is a Library Without a Librarian?," "A Classroom Without a Teacher?" and "Math Without Numbers?"
"Removing the librarian, and in turn our libraries, is an act of education and intellectual suicide," said Ross Gottstein, a teacher at . "And frankly none of you would stand for this if you didn't hold the seats you're now in."
Superintendent Linda Wagner briefly addressed the crowd before the public comment period to reassure citizens that none of the school libraries would be shuttered completely.
The district has already increased class sizes, cut staff, reduced employee salaries and insitituted work furloughs, but the budget crisis remains so grave that now officials must look at cutting even basic educational services, Wagner said.
"The budget is such that we cannot fund all that schools need at this time with general fund dollars," Wagner said. "We reduced every position we can consider cutting and yet there is insufficient funds to run even the core or key elements of our schools. We don't have enough money to give the kids the educations they deserve."
Final decisions about cuts to libraries and other budget items won't be made until the district passes its budget in June.
Marcie Hoopes, the chair of the English department at Clifton, told the board that eliminating full time librarians at Clifton and would be "a tremendous blow to the commitment we share at Clifton to make every child a fluent reader."
Hoopes said that kids have checked out books at growing rates over the last few years at Clifton, where more than 14,000 have been checked out so far this year. She said part-time staff could not meet the demand or offer the same level of service at the library and argued that cutting library hours would hurt poorer students the most because they have nowhere else to obtain books.
"We need a full-time librarian to get the right books in children's hands," Hoopes said. "The students are with us, the parents are with us, the teachers are with us. Are you on board?"
Janeane Covarrubias, whose daughter attends Clifton, said she was very concerned that children would not have sufficient support staff at the library if librarian positions were eliminated or reduced to part-time.
"This is not a cut we can afford to make," Covarrubias said.
Steve Gray, who has a grandchild at Santa Fe, read a letter to the board from Joanne Spring, the founder of Monrovia Reads, a local non-profit that promotes literacy. In the letter, Spring asserted that cutting library staff now could have lasting negative consequences.
"An existing library can be rendered useless in a very short time if it is not staffed with consistent supervision and coordination," Spring wrote.
After the public comment period ended, School Board President Ed Gililland said the district was being forced to make difficult decisions because the state has left it no other choice. He predicted that reduced education spending would lead to more crime in the long run.
"I have no doubt that California is writing a check that they’re going to cash in the prisons 20 years from today…," Gililland said.