In Duval County and across the state,
media specialists in high schools and middle schools are going the way of the dinosaurs, and school libraries might not be far behind.
During the budget process, Duval County secondary school principals were given an option to hire a testing coach or a media specialist (formerly known as a librarian). Most chose testing coaches because of the heavy test schedule.
Janie Jones, who is now a reading teacher, has seen the cuts first-hand.
"I am the former media specialist at Lee High School," Jones said in an email. "Lee High School opened a media center in February, and now it is closed because there is not enough money in the budget to hire a media specialist and hire enough teachers to meet the class size requirements at Lee."
Marsha Oliver, a school district spokeswoman, said she has been assured that the media center at Lee is open for students before and after regular school hours.
In Duval County, the situation seems acute. According to teacher Chris Guerrieri's blog, Education Matters (jaxkidsmatter.blogspot.com), "There are 28 schools that had librarians last year that don't have them this year. There are two schools that didn't have librarians that have them this year. There is a slight uptick in elementary schools, though many just have them half time, but in middle schools and high schools, they have been gutted."
Among the county's high schools, only Paxon School for Advanced Studies gained a media specialist, going from one media specialist in the 2012-'13 school year to two in the current school year.
Andrew Jackson, Atlantic Coast, Baldwin, Englewood, First Coast, Fletcher, Forrest, Lee, Raines, Sandalwood, Stanton, Terry Parker and Wolfson each lost its lone media specialist.
Ed White and Mandarin high schools have no media specialists this year, nor did they last year.
Among middle schools, only Twin Lakes Academy and LaVilla School of the Arts each added one media specialist.
Middle schools losing media specialists include DuPont, Fort Caroline, James W. Johnson, Kernan, Kirby-Smith, Lake Shore, Matthew Gilbert, Mayport, Oceanway, J.E.B. Stuart and John Stilwell.
Arlington, Jefferson Davis, John Ford, Ribault and Westview K-8 did not change and retain one media specialist each. Middle schools that did not have a media specialist either this year or last are Fletcher, Landon, Mandarin, Northwestern and Southside.
Oliver said media centers continue to operate in schools where there is no media specialist. Although she conceded that 28 schools is a large number, she said principals have had the option for several years.
School Board Chairman Fred E. Lee wrote in an email that he didn't think the changes would hurt the secondary schools.
"Most of our secondary schools chose a staff position to support testing over media. The choice, I believe, stems from the fact that for the first time, every school in this county has a reading coach, a resource to enhance and improve literacy," Lee said.
"At the high school level, there are fewer trips to the library. Technology advancements and electronic tools have taken center stage. However, the lights are still on and learning is still on in our high school libraries. There are media clerks, teachers and staff who are using and enhancing library use," Lee wrote.
He said the number of media specialists is up in elementary schools.
"There is no doubt that we value media specialists and the role they play in building enthusiasm for reading," Lee continued. "In our elementary schools, where we really want to start fostering a greater appreciation and love of reading, we have seen a recent, first-time increase in media specialists."
Trey Csar, Jacksonville Public Education Fund president, said the School Board had to balance needs for principals, their assistants, guidance counselors, security guards and core teachers as well as meeting the class-size amendment. Duval County had to pay $1.56 million for violating class-size rules earlier this year.
"Given the penalties they faced in the past, they were going to try to get much closer, if not fully reach the requirement," he said.
"It is important to have a media center. You might be able to staff those facilities at lunch or after school with volunteers or staff additions," Csar said.
Guerrieri has posted several times on his blog about the situation with media specialists.
"Duval County's librarians were right, the sky was falling. Last spring, librarians were saying they were being forced out and the super [superintendent Nikolai Vitti] assured them this was not true," he wrote.
At Lee, where the media center is being used as a classroom, "Kids can't check out books, do research. I don't know if they can stay after school to study any longer, but we also wasted a lot [of] money setting up a brand new media center," he wrote.
A media specialist, who asked that her name not be used, said earlier that the district is marginalizing her job and the district's media specialists play a vital role in a student's success.
"If we want to create a nation of readers, this is not how we do it," she said.
Lee said the School Board was faced with the problems of limited dollars.
"While there was an original plan submitted by our superintendent to fund media specialists in every school in 2013-'14, budget realities did not afford us an opportunity to adopt that plan," Lee said.
Guerrieri also wrote about what he called the recent hypocrisy of the school system to invite parents to the Downtown Public Library for a tour demonstrating how to help their children use the library's academic services.
"This just days after Jacksonville announced they were closing the downtown library on Saturdays to save money and the district has purged its library core," he said.
Jones believes the emphasis on testing is behind many of the budget problems.
"We are constantly testing our students, and this costs money to purchase tests and hire firms to score, report and analyze results and pay people to coordinate all the testing at the district and school levels," Jones said.
St. Johns County high schools have media specialists and testing specialists in all high schools, said Christina Langston, a spokeswoman for that district. Clay County Schools personnel did not return multiple emails about its policy on media specialists.
In Sarasota County, all high school and middle school media specialists have been cut for the new school year, while Marion County cut 15 of its 30 elementary school library positions, though 11 had been vacant due to a hiring freeze, according to Library Hotline, a library news blog.
In Pasco County, the district has done away with media specialists, renaming the positions "information communication technology literary coaches," while Citrus County calls its media professionals "teachers on special assignment/media," according to Library Hotline.
The former Lee High School media specialist believes the changes are hurting students.
"I think it is a sad critique of education that schools must choose between having a test coordinator or a school librarian," Jones said.