OGDEN -- Like many who learned last week of the Ogden School District's decision to get rid of its 20 licensed teacher/librarians, Emery Young was upset.
But unlike most, the Mount Ogden Junior High eighth-grader decided to do something about it.
"I just didn't think it was right," said Emery, 14. "I feel the librarians connect more with students than some of the teachers, and the librarians put in a lot of effort."
So Emery devised a plan to lead fellow students Wednesday in a third-period walkout.
"But then people were saying we might all get suspended, and about 10 kids did leave. They have in-school suspension."
Assistant Principal Beverly Jenson said some students were suspended, but for reasons unrelated to the protest.
Emery considered an after-school protest, but then agreed to a meeting with Ogden School District Superintendent Brad Smith. Smith explained the district's dire need to reduce the budget. Ending the contracts of the 20 licensed teacher/librarians and filling their positions with part-time assistants, will save the district $930,000 per year in wages and benefits, Smith said.
Emery asked Smith if OSD had considered other budget cuts. Smith replied that the first cut was the decision that Ogden School District will no longer finance the repair and maintenance of the swimming pools at Ogden and Ben Lomond high schools. The district is asking Ogden residents to vote June 25 on whether they want to support the pools through a property tax increase.
Emery asked Smith, if the district has one of the state's highest tax rates, where is that money going? Smith said property tax is based on the assessed value of homes, and the average assessed value of a home in Ogden is about $250,000. Residents in the Park City School District, for example, pay a lower tax rate, but homes in Park City may have an assessed value of $1 million or more, so that district gets more money, Smith said.
Emery asked why OSD is building new schools while old schools stand vacant. Vacant properties include the former Grandview, Lynn and Edison elementary schools, and the former district office at Adams Avenue and 24th Street.
Smith said state money given for building construction cannot be used for other purposes. Smith said he expects most of the district's vacant properties to be sold eventually.
"But with the bad economy, it's not a good time to sell," he said. "It would also be one-time money, and you don't want to base salaries on one-time money."
Emery asked what successful districts are doing that Ogden is not. Smith said some districts with similar demographics, including one in Ohio, were thriving because of an intense focus on administrator leadership and the analysis of test scores, resulting in more effective teaching. Smith said Ogden School District is doing the same things, using information from a school turnaround program taught through the University of Virginia. Mount Ogden will be among the next group of district schools to send an administrator for University of Virginia training, Smith said.
Emery asked if grants could help save the librarians. Smith said grants are designated for specific purposes and he knows of no grants that would apply in this case.
Emery suggested holding fundraisers to come up with salary money for the 20 librarians/media center specialists. Smith smiled, and said he didn't think a bake sale would solve the problem. Emery said she agreed, and that she envisioned something bigger.
Smith told Emery she had powerful ideas and a voice that people might heed.
"Because of your age, your poise and your articulation, people might hear your voice where they won't hear mine," he said.
Smith asked if the teen would be willing to talk to Ogden School District administrators about her concerns. He also asked if Emery would talk to lawmakers, if Smith could arrange a meeting. She agreed.
Emery said she left the meeting feeling upbeat.
"Maybe if I can talk to district people and to legislators, hopefully that will make a difference," she said.
Emery said she gained her interest in reading and research through the influence of Shelly Ripplinger, media specialist at Polk Elementary School. At Mount Ogden Junior High, media specialist Casey Pond has been a positive influence, Emery said. Both women will lose their jobs as a result of the district's decision.
"I don't think it's fair to them," Emery said. "And I've just always been a person who wants to make a difference, even if I am the oddball out."