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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 6, 2006

Schools may cut librarians

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

Education assistant Hiasinita Alalamua tutors 5-year-old Leatu'u Prescott during an afterschool session at Kalihi Elementary School. The new funding formula has forced the school to trim positions in the library, counseling and special needs.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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ABOUT THE FORMULA

Under the Reinventing Education Act of 2004 Act 51 Hawai'i's regular public schools will begin receiving lump sum funding next year based on a series of "weights" that reflect the needs of their individual students and the school's enrollment.

How it works: The state Department of Education starts with a base allocation of money per student statewide, and then uses a system of assigned "weights" to add money to students with extra needs, such as those who use English as a second language. Allowances also are made for school characteristics, such as geographic isolation, multitrack schedules or being very large or small.

Why they're doing it: Some schools now get hundreds more dollars per student than other schools, even though they do not necessarily have the neediest students. The goal is to shift money to schools with the neediest students. The ultimate goal is to improve student performance.

Where the money will come from: The formula will take from some schools and give to others.

When it begins: Next school year marks the beginning of a four-year phase-in. Implementation levels are set at 10 percent in the first year, 15 percent, 25 percent and 50 percent over the last three years.

Source: State Department of Education

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From the time it became clear that more than half the state's 250-plus traditional public schools would lose money under a new funding formula, principals knew the only place to make up sizable losses would be in personnel.

Now, as principals plan for next year, the first signs that positions will indeed be lost and what that means to the schools are emerging.

Ten or more librarian positions are on the chopping block at schools from Lana'i High and Elementary to Kalihi Elementary in O'ahu's impoverished Kalihi Valley.

"These little bitty rural schools, it's just killing them," said Loraine Hotoke, librarian at Liholiho School and president of the Hawai'i Association of School Librarians. "They're having to cut a whole bunch of positions."

At tiny Lili'uokalani School on Wai'alae Avenue, where the funding loss the first year will amount to $184,000, principal James Toyooka has had to cut a teaching position along with the librarian, a part-time custodian and an aide who works on the adjustment of children with poor behavior.

The goal is to keep the impact far from the classroom, so the cuts begin with nonteaching jobs.

Even at that, the reductions are slicing into intervention programs for children at-risk, counseling positions, those trained to work with special-needs children, even custodians. Dozens of people are looking at having their jobs ended, or reduced to part time, and are faced with relocating to other schools or new careers. In the 55 schools in the Honolulu District alone, 20 positions are being cut, according to administrators.

The numbers aren't final, and may not be for a month or more. All cuts are projected. But with planning for next year well under way, district superintendents are being asked to approve trimmed-down academic plans across the state.

People such as Nadine Chun, who has been with the DOE for 34 years and spent the past six working with high-needs children as a student services coordinator, see months of training to work with these students going down the drain.

"They spent all this time training me for all the compliance issues and phhft it's out the door," Chun said. "I will be in a displaced pool and there's still no guarantee I'll get another full-time position."

Annie Gino, an educational assistant at Kamilo'iki School, worries about the loss of people in a program that catches behavior problems among kindergarten to third-graders before they become more serious.

"What's going to happen in the state as a whole?" Gino said. "The Legislature pushed so hard for this to be implemented in every school and now it seems it doesn't matter anymore."

HARD CHOICES

Stevenson Middle School is another that's expecting to cut its librarian, and Phyllis Butler, who has been in that position for 19 years, is concerned about what's going to happen to students. Two programs Butler and Stevenson teacher Joan Stone helped implement a decade ago the Accelerated Reader and Star programs have boosted students' reading abilities and their love of books.

"I guess they don't understand what librarians do," said Butler, who has been offered a position as a sixth-grade teacher at Stevenson, but isn't sure she'll take it. "Who's going to help the students to learn the library in the first place?"

At Kalihi Elementary, principal Natalie Mun-Taketa took her problems to her teachers, staff and parents, and they decided together that the school had to put its top priority on getting out of the sanctions imposed under No Child Left Behind.

After six years of sanctions under the federal law, the school has given itself the next two years to get scores up before the targets rise again.

That has meant hard choices: getting rid of the librarian, half a counseling position and half of Chun's position as the student services coordinator handling everything for special-needs children. But with those cuts, Mun-Taketa can add one more teacher and bring the student-teacher ratio in fifth grade down to 20 to 1 from 34 to 1 now.

"Our goal is to reduce class size, so students get the extra attention," Mun-Taketa said. "That's where the tire hits the road."

LIBRARY SKILLS

With the loss of the librarian, Mun-Taketa expects the teachers to add library instruction to their school day. There's only one problem: None have been trained.

Librarians come with specialized training, often a master's degree. It's they who know how to build a school's book collection and keep it up to date, how to find the best databases on the Internet, how to teach children safety on the Web and find the best research.

"We've contacted the local public library to see if they can help us and we might go up there for whatever we need," said principal Toyooka of Lili'uokalani School. "And we're talking to our DOE library people to see how they can help us figure out how our library really works. None of us are trained in that field."

"It's like moving the clock back 100 years, which is when libraries in schools first started in Hawai'i," said Vi Harada, a professor in the library and information science program at the University of Hawai'i, and coordinator of the university's preparation program for school librarians.

"What the schools need is a lot of support in getting kids to read and use technology wisely and maneuver and master the Internet," Harada said. "All those skills are the very things librarians teach in school settings."

Without a librarian, Harada said, schools will face serious problems next year.

At Kalihi Elementary, Margaret Vincze has spent 19 years as school librarian and was the person who automated the system, built the collection and every day nurtures a love of reading among the children. At recess there's even a band of little ones who sidle into the library so she can read to them.

"I feel sorry for the children because in this community, this is their library. Not many go to the public library," Vincze said. "So if this doesn't provide them a wonderful place to read and encourage them, where will they go?"

Fifth-grader Bradley Alconcel is one whose love of books now extends to reading to kindergartners as part of the after-school Homework Club.

"Lots of books can be fun to read," said the 10-year-old, bounding into the library.

TAKING A RISK

Vincze could retire a year from now, but she would like to spend that year at Kalihi. And if she can't stay there, she said she'll be forced to put her name in the pool to be farmed out wherever there's a need.

According to the U.S. National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, more than 60 studies in several dozen states over the past few years have shown that students score higher on standardized tests when they have access to school libraries with trained librarians.

But Mun-Taketa believes she has to take that chance. And instead of bemoaning her losses, she has chosen to look at having choices as the powerful new tool legislators envisioned when they passed the Reinventing Education Act in 2004. It's this act that mandated the change in school funding to put more money in schools where there's greater need.

"We don't have enough money to go with the librarian position if we want to get out of (No Child Left Behind) sanctions," Mun-Taketa said. "But it's good we had that choice. With the old system we wouldn't even have that opportunity. Now we'll have classes no larger than 20 students next year."

To beef up reading in other ways, she's adding extracurricular activities such as the Read Aloud Program, and continuing free after-school tutoring offered by volunteer Navy personnel, school aides and parents.

But parent Ruth Clemente is mourning the potential loss of the school's full-time librarian next year.

"It's going to be crazy," Clemente said. "The kids try very hard to learn but if they don't have a librarian, who's going to be their teacher?"

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.