Glen Ridge community protests school district’s decision to cut high school librarian position

The Glen Ridge Board of Education approves eliminating the high school’s library media specialist at the budget hearing on April 26.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge residents and staff members in the Glen Ridge School District are protesting the elimination of Glen Ridge High School’s library media specialist due to cuts in the 2021-2022 budget. The budget was approved unanimously at the BOE’s April 26 meeting after a public hearing; no members of the public spoke about the elimination of the position then.

“We’re looking to move forward with a vision that’s a little bit different than what you would see in a typical library,” Superintendent Dirk Phillips said at the April 26 meeting. “That has slowly started happening over the past several years, where our students are not using the space the same. As far as taking books out, it’s just not a practice that our students are doing. Part of that is access to online books; they are able to get them quickly in their hands. We are looking to make it a less traditional space, where we are having the resources still available when it comes to electronics, and we have a lot of online subscriptions where students can access books from a variety of resources.”

Phillips said the library would be used for large group presentations and as a cooperative space. The change will be overseen by the administration; teachers at GRHS who are on the technology team will be available to students in the library.

“All of those things that are being utilized by the students right now we’re going to keep in place,” Phillips said. “For operations that we’ve seen dwindle, we’re going to figure out how to do those a little bit differently.”

MaryLynn Savio has been the librarian at GRHS for 22 years; she is also currently the president of the Glen Ridge Education Association. At the May 24 BOE meeting, she said eliminating her position would contribute to the short-staff problem GRHS already has.

“As you would expect, I firmly believe it is a mistake to eliminate the library media specialist position at the high school. This is not just because it is the position I’ve held for 22 years, but because it is an essential resource for students,” Savio said. “The high school, though highly ranked, is chronically understaffed.”

According to Savio, most teachers are supposed to teach five periods a day at the high school, allowing time for lesson planning, communicating with parents, meeting with students and collaborating with other colleagues. But 80 percent of the high school teachers teach a sixth period for a stipend.

“If my position is eliminated, not only will high school students and staff lose someone they can rely on for instructional support, but other teachers will be expected to absorb my five teaching assignments,” Savio said. “There are few faculty members in the position to take on an additional class. Make no mistake about it, eliminating the high school library media specialist will negatively impact our teachers academically and emotionally now and into the future.”

Savio wasn’t the only librarian advocating for her job. Holly Belli, a Glen Ridge resident and the director of the Bloomfield Public Library, said at the May 10 BOE meeting that the lack of a school librarian will affect GRHS students into adulthood.

“Grown adults do not know how to evaluate a source, don’t understand how to find what they need,” Belli said. “They can’t do their taxes; they can’t find the tax form that they want. You are asking your high school students to learn how to navigate the internet, to learn how to find what they need with whatever time their teachers have left over. That is a very, very shortsighted and poor decision.”

She pointed to news and the spread of disinformation, saying that many people do not know how to evaluate information.

“We have whole cults of disinformation that are taking over our political discourse and our civic lives,” Belli said. “This education comes directly from school librarians. It is imperative that we have a professional librarian available to our kids to help them navigate information correctly. My daughter got a fantastic education at Glen Ridge High School, and librarians were a part of it. I would hate to see our kids miss out on that.”

Teachers from the social studies and English departments at GRHS also asked for the librarian position to be restored at both the May 10 and May 24 meetings, in addition to parents of GRHS students and elementary school students. The district administration and BOE did not say they would reconsider, but Phillips said on May 24 that the communications committee has discussed adjusting when budget information is shared before it is presented.

“We’ve discussed the possibility that, in the future, we will release the budget presentation earlier, so the public would have that information before the BOE meeting that takes place in April,” he said.