Photo submitted by Helen Shafran

Libraries were the main concern raised at Tuesday night’s hearing of the Salem-Keizer School District budget committee.

It was the second in a series of public meetings, all at Claggett Creek Middle School, on cuts the district administration has proposed to keep the district solvent for 2011-12. Other matters addressed by audience members were proposals to shut down three elementary schools and reduce bilingual programs.

Before the hearing started, many people stood outside the school building holding signs with messages such as:

*“Save our librarians.”

*“We love our librarians.”

*“Librarians change lives.”

*“Don’t eliminate my librarian.”

*“There will be consequences.”

Most of the 32 people who spoke from the audience focused on the proposal for a deep cut in library-media personnel for kindergarten through eighth grade.   However, the first speaker, Alan Bushong, representing Friends of Music, spoke against reducing music teachers. He urged centralizing music education and instituting a seven-period day for the middle schools.

Audience members supporting librarians included Margo Jensen, a retired library-media teacher, who said any reduction should be proportional rather than the proposed 91%. Teacher-librarians, she said, teach literacy and are key to managing information in the 21st century.

Jensen urged reducing K-8 librarians by 50%, assigning each remaining one to two schools and keeping libraries open longer.

“This should cut the deficit by at least $1.5 million,” she said.

Next to speak was Jim Scheppke, Oregon state librarian, who said, “Reading proficiency is the foundation of all learning.” He noted that last year, 34 percent of 10th-graders in the state could not pass the reading assessment test.

BJ Toewe, Salem public library administrator, told the committee that if the proposed librarian cuts were approved, public libraries would not have the capacity to pick up the slack.

Tina Lowen, a library-media teacher at Houck Middle School, agreed with Jensen’s idea of assigning one librarian to two schools. She noted that about one-third of Houck students never used the public library.

Two of the speakers from the audience were elementary school students. Anthony Booth, calling library one of his favorite subjects, asked how he would could learn informational technology if library services were cut. Estela Flores described her librarian as “wonderful” and said it was “really sad” that the committee would think of cutting the library staff.

Standing ovations followed the comments of both children.

Lloyd Chapman, who described himself as a volunteer, said, “I’m not here to argue for any particular program,” but urged keeping personnel “who have a direct impact on students.”

It would be better, he said, to cut 10 percent from the $2 million for technology, reduce the program for improvement in construction by about $5 million, cut travel expenses by an unspecified amount, and see what grant possibilities exist.

Ann Rolufs, a library media assistant, said cuts in library funding would be bad for at-risk students, who do not know how to use libraries.

Several audience members spoke against planned closure of two elementary schools, Bethel and Fruitland. Closure of Lake Labish Elementary School is also proposed, but no one in the audience mentioned it.

Jeff Pearce urged, as alternatives to closure, sharing principals, outsourcing services and eliminating the last three days of the current school year.

Adam Kuenzi said the committee should consider costs per student at the targeted schools and let them stay open one more year to see how they work out.

Speakers for keeping English as a second language programs in place included Jaime Arredondo, who said they helped him greatly when he was a student in the district. He singled out as one of his best teachers Aurora Cedillo, who also took the microphone, representing the Salem-Keizer Coalition.

The next public hearing on the budget was held the following night after press time.