Shaler Area library supporters claim staff shifts hurt students

By Racheal Farkas, courtesy of Pittsburgh Tribune

Library supporters packed Shaler Area School Board's meeting to speak out against a recent reorganizations of the district's school librarians and library aides.

More than 50 people overflowed from the board's conference room earlier this month into a reception area outside, and about 10 of them spoke during the meeting.

“I know that all of you care about education, but we can't have a strong school district without information and media centers that are staffed by devoted, caring, enthusiastic information professionals,” said Ingrid Kalchthaler, a 1989 Shaler Area graduate and librarian at Shaler North Hills Library. “All that means is school libraries matter, and school librarians matter even more.”

Shaler Area Superintendent Wes Shipley said there was a realignment of aides to accommodate two special-needs students with individualized education plans who need full-time assistance. The district is required by law to accommodate a student's IEP, he said, which leaves the district with few options within the budget.

Several aides were moved from library or educational positions to be able to take care of the students. The high school gained a full-time librarian in the move, and the elementary lost a library aide.

“It took us to a place where we had to work from within, and we felt this would be the most minimal impact,” he said.

The impact, however, has not been minimal, a few angry parents said.

Kristen Wilson, 44, said her daughter came home from school one day complaining that the library was closed when she tried to take a quiz for a book she had read.

“She couldn't take the test, and she couldn't check out a new book,” Wilson said. “She had one free period a day to go to the library, and she couldn't go.”

Kalchthaler and other library supporters passed out two charts at the meeting that they said demonstrated the district's lack of librarians and aides compared to Pennsylvania Department of Education standards for library staffing and the effect library staffing has on student attendance in the library.

“I'm really thankful that no jobs were lost in this reorganization, but I would just please ask you to reconsider the positions that were eliminated and the hours that were cut for these school library programs,” Kalchthaler said.

Discussions began in mid-November about how to handle the new need for dedicated student aides, and the librarian and aide moves have been ongoing, Shipley said.

He said the emotional reaction from the community has been “totally understandable,” but internal moves such as this one constantly are being evaluated.

Simply adding two more aide positions to make up for those lost in the library could cost up to $70,000 to $80,000 when salary and benefits are accounted for, he said.

“This is a very difficult situation,” he said. “We're doing our best to make the best decisions for the district … You were heard, and we appreciate it. You certainly gave us a lot to think about.”