Letter: Library Para-educators Keep School Libraries Open
Here we go again. Included in the list of budget reductions in the Amherst elementary schools FY24 budget is a cut to library para-educators. In 2016, this same cut was proposed and it was a slog to get it restored. It is exhausting having to fight again for something that should be valued enough to be included in the budget as a given.
When my kids were younger, I volunteered at the Wildwood library and witnessed firsthand what a critical role library paraeducators play in our elementary library. They welcome and interact with kids (and teachers), helping kids check out books, answering their questions, asking them about their lives, engaging with them. It was clear to me that the kids adored the library para-educator (then Jenny Haugsjaahabink, now Sarah Tatro) and the cheerful banter they would have with her.
Librarian Susan Wells teaches classes more than half of the day which means she is not available at those times to help other kids who come into the library. It is the para-educator who keeps the library open while lessons are happening, as well as when the librarian is busy running the maker space, planning project-based learning units, or doing any number of other library tasks. [See Wildwood Library News here.]
We cannot afford to lose Sarah and her counterparts at the other schools.
The amount that cutting these positions would save ($60,000) is infinitesimal in a $30 million budget. Library para-educators can, and often do, interact with every student in a school, which cannot be said about many other positions. It is frustrating that it often seems to be the “special” subjects (library, art, music, P.E, and technology) that are selected for reductions when budgets are tight. It is these offerings that set our public schools apart from the competition, helping to keep families in-district. I have heard time and again that when new families get a tour of Wildwood they are most struck by how amazing the library is. Why then do we devalue this incredible resource when it comes to developing the budget?
I understand there is no magic bullet to the school budget woes. The proposed library para-educator cuts are a symptom of a much larger issue that needs to be addressed as a community, but I believe sacrificing such important positions is misguided.
If you highly value getting books into young hands and developing young readers in our schools, please speak up now to ask the School Committee and district leadership to restore the library para-educator positions in the FY24 budget. You can email the School Committee at SCPublicComment@arps.org, leave a voicemail or text at 413-362-1891, or speak in person at the next School Committee meeting on March 14.
Leadership needs to hear how much we value our school libraries.
Toni Cunningham is a resident of Amherst and the parent of two children in the Amherst Public Schools.