PROSSER -- The Prosser School Board is pondering whether to strip its schools of their five full-time librarians, putting three into classroom teaching jobs and saving $250,000.
Superintendent Ray Tolcacher says the proposal, which has not been approved by the board but will be a part of the budget package that must be voted on by Aug. 31, will keep the district from dipping deeper into its reserves.
One of the five positions is vacant, and there is no plan to fill it.
"This is not something we want to do. But if I don't make these cuts right now, we'll be in huge trouble next year," he said.
Nor is it what the district's teachers and librarians want, said Fred Bray, president of the Prosser Education Association and a teacher at Heights Elementary School.
"Our position is clear. We think this is devastating to literacy in the district," Bray said.
Bray said he and other teachers have spoken against the proposal at several board meetings, but because summer board meetings are lightly attended, the public knows little about it.
Tolcacher's proposal would have the sole district librarian spend one day a week at each school, with five library assistants filling in on the other four days at each school -- Keene-Riverview, Heights Elementary, Whitstran Elementary, Housel Middle School and Prosser High School.
The district has about 2,000 students, Bray said.
The proposal may be mentioned at tonight's board meeting, but the board isn't scheduled to talk about it until next Tuesday during a hearing on the proposed budget, Tolcacher said.
Bray said students will not be receiving training and lessons on how to use the library if the proposal is adopted. He noted that library assistants are not professionally trained, as librarians are, to do lessons for students about the different types of books and how to choose a book appropriate for a student's learning and reading abilities.
Librarians also provide resources for teachers, which library assistants do not have the professional expertise to do, Bray said.
Tolcacher said students still would have library services, and the district would have three more teachers once librarians are assigned to classrooms.
Without the three additional teachers, Prosser would be hard-pressed to fill the positions, he said.
Prosser and school districts statewide face state funding cuts and a legislative directive to implement a 1.9 percent pay cut for teachers.
But Tolcacher said he is unwilling to order the salary cut and would rather dip into the district's $3.2 million reserve. As it is, he plans to recommend taking $500,000 from reserves to help balance the budget.
If the board does not approve his proposal for the libraries, Tolcacher said his backup plan will be to draw another $250,000 from reserves.
Board member Win Taylor said he and board member Bill Starkey "have questioned this approach" but have not had a chance to discuss it as an entire board.
"There is a load of opposition from the teachers, who say it is contrary to the primary goal of educating students," Taylor said.