OGDEN -- Twenty media specialists/librarians were told Friday morning they would not have jobs with the Ogden School District next year.
The cut is a "reduction in force," meaning that no compensation is offered.
Administrators broke the news to the specialists at a specially called meeting Friday morning. Those present suspected something was up when they received an email and phone call earlier in the week to plan the meeting.
"We knew they were discussing budget cuts when they contacted us," said Shelly Ripplinger, media specialist at Polk Elementary. Still, she said she was surprised they would all be cut.
The district will start using staff assistants to fill the spots. The change comes because the district is facing huge budget cuts, plus changes to retirement plans and the transition to the Affordable Health Care Act next year, said Ogden District Superintendent Brad Smith.
The change -- which includes media specialists from the districts' elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools -- will save the district $930,000 per year, district officials say.
The district will retain two media specialists at the district level to oversee the rest of the staff assistants. There will be two part-time staff assistants at each school working 3 to 3.9 hours a day, allowing the district to not pay medical or retirement benefits to those employees.
Smith said Ogden School District is the only remaining district on the Wasatch Front to employ licensed teachers as media specialists in their libraries.
Smith encourages the media specialists to apply for teaching positions in the district.
Three Top of Utah school districts contacted Friday say they use licensed teachers in their secondary schools, although none have licensed teacher/librarians in their elementary schools.
Belinda Kuck, Davis School District library media supervisor, said her district's eight high schools and 16 junior high schools each have at least one licensed teacher in their library/media centers.
"We have classified personnel in our elementary school libraries, but certified teacher librarians in all of our secondary schools, some with classified personnel assisting," she said.
"Generally, accrediting organizations recommend you have a certified librarian in your school library. Research has shown over and over and over that, when you have a certified teacher/librarian in a school library, your test scores will increase."
Nate Taggart, Weber School District spokesman, said Smith's assertion of no licensed teacher/librarians does not apply to Weber School District.
"It's not accurate," he said. "Elementary school media specialists don't have to be certified teachers, but all secondary school specialists do."
Taggart said the Weber School District's five high schools and nine junior high schools each have at least one certified teacher/librarian working in their library/media centers.
The same is true of the Morgan School District, said district business administrator D'Lynn Poll.
"Our secondary schools have certified teacher librarians, to help meet accreditation requirements," Poll said. "We have one high school and one middle school. We also have aides who are overseen by certified teacher librarians."
Box Elder School district could not be reached for comment.
The decision to cut the media specialists won't be made official until the school board votes on the final budget in June, but district officials wanted to give the specialists ample time to find other employment.
School board president Shane Story said there is always a chance things can change before June, but the board and administrators felt it was fair to give the specialists ample time and warning.
He said the decision has not been an easy one for anyone in the district, but for three years, the district has been borrowing from its rainy day fund to stay afloat -- and it just can't do that anymore.
"When we look at other districts that don't have media specialists, there aren't drastic negative affects," he said.
The media specialists don't agree.
The district has had teachers, both last year and this year, serve as Utah Educational Library Media Association presidents and represent the state well in helping other teachers and media specialists better educate children, said Amy Jamison, media specialist at Bonneville Elementary.
She wrote an open letter to the district on Friday expressing the thoughts of most of the district's media specialists, Ripplinger said.
"What I see happening is not good sense," the letter states. "It contradicts the district's mission to improve failing schools, support successful schools, and raise the bar for student achievement."
The American Federation of Teachers Utah chapter has also weighed in on the issue.
"The firing of our media specialists demonstrates the lack of educational expertise that the current superintendent and board of education members have in meeting the needs of students," AFT president Brad Asay said in a written statement.
Asay is looking into the legal rights the teachers have and whether they will be able to start collecting unemployment as soon as the last day of this school year.
He said taxpayers should hold the district and superintendent responsible for what he deems as unjustly firing teachers.
"It's unprofessional, unethical and will not be tolerated," Asay said of the decision.
Jamison said the Ogden School District is willing to sacrifice highly trained professionals already positioned in the school and replace them with the unknown. She added the district is already undergoing much change.
Other specialists are frustrated that Smith, nor any other board members, were present at the meeting to break the news.
Story said the human resources department knew how to address all the issues in the right way and that it was not an issue of them not caring about the employees but making sure their needs could be met by the staff that was available.
Many of the specialists don't know what is next for them.
"It's very heartbreaking for the kids," Ripplinger said. "I think (the district) needs to look at other possibilities. I know they have, but I still think they need to keep looking at (other options)."
Story said the students are the most important factor. Both he and Smith said the decision is a completely financial one.
"We need to look at how we can least negatively affect student achievement," Story said.