OGDEN -- Close to 140 angry parents and community members showed up Wednesday morning for a meeting with Ogden School District Superintendent Brad Smith, to urge him and district officials to reconsider the decision that, if approved in June, will cost the district's 20 certified media specialists their jobs.
Garth Tuck, an Ogden father of six, led off questions from the standing-room-only crowd by asking Smith to provide the data from the Ogden pilot study that convinced the board that certified media specialists were so expendable. Smith admitted the district conducted no such study.
"I'm willing to concede I don't know everything," Smith said.
"That takes a load off my mind," Tuck shot back, before trying to talk more.
"I think you have had your time," Smith replied, moving on to the next questioner.
Smith has said the decision not to renew the 20 contracts for next school year will save the district about $990,000 in salaries and benefits, which will help it begin to address a $2.7 million budget shortfall, he said. Smith said he based his recommendation to the board on his belief that certified media specialists get less "face time" with each student than do instruction coaches, whom he had also considered cutting. Smith said the certified media specialists/librarians were cut to protect the jobs of the teachers, who spend the most face time instructing and working with students.
"For the better part of two generations, the Ogden School District has not delivered on education," Smith said. "We have to deliver a different educational product. The argument that, 'This is how it has always been' doesn't work anymore."
Smith said his teenage son would like to go to medical school, and has had many advantages in life, including two parents in the home, a residence east of Harrison Boulevard, lots of books and advocates for his future success. Smith said he was worried about his son's education, and for that of Ogden children with fewer advantages.
"What hope does the little Mexican kid down the street have?" Smith asked by comparison.
Smith said his only real budgetary options were to cut expenses, which he was doing, or to increase revenue by raising property taxes or increasing class sizes and employing fewer teachers.
One audience member yelled that her child is already in a class of 38, and another yelled that her kindergartner is in a class of 30.
Smith asked several times that talk remain civil. The majority of parent comments seemed to be about the value of certified media specialists/librarians in children's education, in teaching a love of literature that opens young minds to learning in all areas of study. Two young teens stood up to address Smith, one bursting into tears as she tried to convey her disappointment at the thought of losing a media specialist who she said had transformed her educational experience.
Under the district plan, certified media specialists will be replaced by noncertified part-time staffers. To those who suggested other cuts as budget solutions, Smith said there was no time left to research the wide range of alternatives crowd members mentioned. The deadline for the board to approve next school year's budget is the June 12 meeting, he said.
After Smith talked about the increasingly good student test scores in the Ogden School District, several audience members, including one who identified herself as a Weber State professor, talked about multiple studies from top universities that found the loss of a principal or key faculty member lowered school test scores for the next two years, as a result of the disruptive effect and a drop in school morale. Smith had noted at one point that there had been more administrative changes during his time with the district than there had been in the past two decades.
The final Ogden School Board vote on the media specialists' release will also take place June 12, Smith said, adding that he could have avoided alerting the dismissed librarians until that time, but thought it would be more helpful to them to have advance notice that would allow them to "put their houses in order."
Smith extended the meeting, originally scheduled for an hour. Nearly three hours after the meeting started, parents and others in attendance were still lined up, waiting for a chance to talk to the superintendent.
Shane Story, Ogden School Board president, attended the meeting with board members Don Belnap and Jeffrey Heiner, but none spoke during the meeting. Story said afterward that he believed much was accomplished during the meeting.
"It's important for people to express their concerns, and the passion they have for their children's education," Story said. "The outcome might not change, but the process in the future will. The parents realize now they can't wait to the last minute to get involved."
Story said he served on an OSD community council prior to becoming a school board member.
"Maybe we need to better utilize the community councils," he said, indicating it would be a way to poll parents for their opinions and perspectives.
Smith said he shared Story's assessment of the meeting. Smith said he was expecting the animated discussion he got.
"I hope I can learn some better ways to have parents share their opinions," he said.
Smith said he was pleased to see so many parents taking an interest in the school board, especially considering that so few parents attend the district's regular board meetings.