Frederick eliminates school media assistant positions -- Gazette.Net


The headline with this story was corrected on June 15, 2012. An explanation follows the story.

When Frederick County students come back to school this fall, they may notice changes in their school-based media centers.

The shelving of books and updating of periodicals may be delayed. Some reading programs could disappear. And, in some cases, schools might have to limit the times when students can exchange books.

As a result of staffing cuts that the school board finalized with the adoption of their $523-million fiscal 2013 budget on Wednesday, school media centers may not be as efficient in serving students as they have been in the past.

School board members voted 3-4 on their final operating budget, with board members Brad Young, April Miller and James “Jimmy” Reeder, Jr. voting against the spending plan.

Among other adjustments, the budget eliminates funding for 40 media assistant positions — a measure that is saving the system about $1 million.

Though school media assistants who lost their jobs have been able to reapply for other positions in the system, the change will have a significant effect on schools, said Karen Blackwood, president of the Frederick County Association of School Support Employees.

“It’s a loss not only to the staff but also to the teachers and the children,” Blackwood said.

Working closely with media specialists, media assistants handle the day-to-day media center operations, while media specialists teach classes and help students gain research skills. With the elimination of the media assistants, their duties will fall back on teachers and other school employees, Blackwood said.

The impact will be most significant in the larger schools in the system. Centerville Elementary, for example, is losing one media assistant and next year will have just one media specialist serving almost 1,000 students. As a result, the school will lose two reading incentive programs and will have to limit the time when students can exchange books.

“It’s a huge impact, especially in a school our size,” said Monica MacCracken, the former media assistant at the school, who had to reapply for a job as an instructional assistant after her position was eliminated.

MacCracken was named media assistant of the year and was selected as the Frederick County Public Schools’ Support Employee of the Year for 2012.

“It’s very ironic,” she said. “I was very honored and fortunate to receive the award. ... But if I am that important and I do such a good job, then why is it taken away?”

The elimination of media assistants was one of several cuts the school board made while building its spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget — which represents a $6 million increase over fiscal 2012 — also includes less money for supplies and school materials and a deferal of $1.9 million in textbook replacements.

In exchange for these cuts, school officials were able to avoid class size increases and furlough days for staff — which had been proposed in earlier versions of the spending plan.

The adopted budget allocates $1.2 million to support enrollment growth and building expansion, $861,000 for the opening of the new Carroll Creek Montessori Charter School and $2.6 million to continuation of existing programs and services.

The budget also includes a $6.8 million resource pool dedicated to salary increases, which serves as a placeholder while the school board completes negotiations with its three employee unions.

Negotiations with county teachers are already under way and Frederick County teachers are currently evaluating an offer which would entitle teachers and other employees to partial step increases.

A step increase for the full year would raise pay for eligible employees by 3.5 percent. However, teachers would likely receive about three-fourths of a percent more in their paychecks because the increase does not kick in until December. The pay raise also is diminished because a 1.5 percent supplement offered to employees last year to help cover increased pension costs has been eliminated.

Young said he was uncomfortable supporting the budget because it placed the school system in a tight financial position for the future. Specifically, he had an issue with a decision from the majority on the board to allocate $800,000 in one-time savings toward the recurring expense of a salary pool.

“I just don’t think that we are putting ourselves in a good position for the future,” he said.

Board member Donna Crook, voted in support of the budget but only after making an emotional statement concerning the staff cuts in the spending plan.

“This budget process has been difficult,” said Crook, who earlier in the year tried to avoid cutting the positions for media assistants. “I will support this budget, but it will be with great heartache.”

Blackwood, the support employee union president was also disappointed with the board’s final budget decision.

Blackwood remains optimistic that all the media assistants who lost jobs as a result of the budget cuts will be able to find different jobs within the school system.

But she expressed concern that support employees, such as media assistants, seem to feel the biggest impact of budget cuts even though many of them fall on the lower end of the salary scale within the school system.

“It’s just an unfortunate scenario that repeats on a yearly basis,” she said.

Correction: It was the union president, not an educator, who was being referred to in the subhead.