Letter to the editor: Cut to MUMS librarian post fails to meet Vt. standards

I have had the privilege to be part of Middlebury Union Middle School for many years, first as a science teacher and now as the school library media specialist. The faculty and staff are hard-working professionals who serve our students well. For years MUMS has had a reputation as one of the best middle schools in the state.
With our declining enrollment and an eye on level funding reinforced by a mandate from the state, our principal was told by the school board to cut three positions. This is a difficult decision for all involved. Due to the change in school board policy since the restructuring, these cuts were not brought to the school board for discussion. The principal at MUMS, Kris Holsman-Francoeur, and Peter Burrows, our superintendent, made the decision about where the cuts were to happen.
As a local taxpayer, I understand clearly the cost of property taxes, but I fell so strongly that I feel I must speak out about one of the cuts, a 50 percent reduction in our library media specialist position. As a pending retiree, I will not be affected by this cut, and I am not saying that there should be no cuts. Still, we need to take another look at where these cuts can happen so we don’t lose critical parts of our school.
Thriving libraries are the hearts of our schools. Certified library media specialists work with students to become lifelong readers and proficient researchers. They guide our students toward critical thinking and critiquing the validity of information. I started as a library media specialist 16 years ago at 0.6 with a full-time assistant. Over the years, my time has increased to 1 full-time without an assistant, a change that made sense given fewer students and changes in how the library is used. The proposed reduction of the library specialist’s position to 0.5 will not meet the Vermont Education Quality Standards, which were written by the State School Board Association and adopted by the state legislature in 2014. This requires that schools with over 300 students have at least one full-time library media specialist and ones with fewer students have a library media specialist on a pro-rata basis. See tinyurl.com/nxthnyz.
This is not a recommendation or a suggestion. These are the standards that all schools in Vermont are required to follow. With our current population of 279, the position should be a 0.93 librarian at MUMS vs. the 0.5 proposed cut.
Superintendent Burrows will have to apply for a waiver from the state. A number of schools in the northern part of Vermont applied for waivers and had them denied. They had to hire a part- or full-time librarian or face a 5 percent property tax penalty assessed against the town’s taxpayers. How can we even entertain taking on International Baccalaureate (IB) with its higher expectations and need for additional staff when we don’t even meet the Vermont standards?
If any of the proposed cuts raise questions for you, I urge you to call Peter Burrows, ACSD Superintendent, 382-1274 and the members of the ACSD board and share your concerns. The quality of our middle school is threatened.
Barbara Karle

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