PROSSER -- The Prosser School Board on Tuesday narrowly approved the district's annual budget for the coming school year.
The board voted 3-2 to adopt the nearly $28.4 million general budget. Board members Win Taylor and Bill Starkey opposed the adoption.
The district faced a $1.3 million shortfall in that budget, due mostly to state budget cuts made this summer and last winter.
It met that shortfall by dipping into its reserves, not replacing retiring staff and -- most controversially -- converting librarians to classroom teachers.
The district will draw $570,000 from its savings account to balance its budget.
Budget writers also made small cuts to other programs, ranging from reduced coaching staffs to not buying new textbooks this year.
But no cut drew more opposition than the plan to reduce the five designated librarians in the district to one.
Nearly one-third of the shortfall -- $410,000 -- will be countered by not filling the position of the departing librarian at Keene-Riverview Elementary, reassigning the librarians from Whitstran Elementary, Prosser Heights Elementary and Prosser High to classroom teaching positions, and turning the Housel Middle School librarian into a district librarian, who will rotate through all schools.
A public hearing Tuesday drew a crowd of about 30 teachers, parents and librarians.
All who commented were opposed to the district's plan, or at least urged the board to consider how important librarians are to improving kids' reading skills.
"Our district has a lot of parents who don't have books at home," said Mikki Symonds, secretary of the Prosser Parent-Teacher Association. "Librarians can help (their) kids enjoy books."
Rob Witcraft, the librarian at Prosser High who will now teach English, reminded the board that he also provided computer services and tech support for the entire high school in his now-former position. The teaching assistant who will replace him may not have those skills, he said.
But district officials said they had considered all options before choosing to move the librarians.
Classes couldn't be allowed to get any bigger, which meant teacher layoffs were out of the question, said Superintendent Ray Tolcacher.
Maintenance and custodial personnel had already been thinned to a minimum a few years ago. And each office staffer fills several positions to save money.
"We're as bare as you can get in this district," Tolcacher said.
Board members said they were leery of trimming library staff, but understood the need to balance the district's budget.
However, several in the audience asked the board to postpone the adoption until the public -- and board members -- had more time to review the thick packet of balance sheets that made up the proposal. Several in the crowd complained that the packet had only been made available earlier Tuesday.
Even board members said they didn't see the proposal until Friday or Saturday.
Right before they voted against the budget proposal, Starkey and Taylor said they wanted more time to review the numbers and figure out if cuts other than the librarian positions could balance the budget.
A few in the audience questioned why teachers couldn't absorb some of the pain inflicted in the budget. The state is giving districts 1.9 percent less money to pay teachers, but has left it up to the districts how to pass on that pay cut.
Immediately before adopting the budget, the board unanimously approved a new bargaining agreement with its teacher union.
That agreement gives teachers two extra work days, leaving them nearly unharmed by the state cuts.