OGDEN -- Parents, librarians, former principals and teachers, and a few current students crowded into the Ogden School District's board meeting Thursday night, many awaiting their chance to express their disappointment to the board and district officials about recent cost-cutting actions sparked by a $2.7 million budget deficit.
Most speakers urged district officials not to dismiss the district's 20 certified media specialists. A few spoke with anger about Superintendent Brad Smith's decision to end the district's adult education program, which will now be administered by Weber School District.
Others were upset about the district's dismissal of part-time reading coaches, whose jobs are being restructured and replaced with a lesser number of openings for staff assistants. A few asked how the district expected to keep good teachers' aide when it had cut back their hours enough to disqualify them for health insurance.
Still others came to ask for Smith's dismissal, after learning from the district's website that policy requires the board to vote at the first meeting in June on whether it wants to reapprove the current superintendent's employment.
Approximately 110 members of the public struggled to fit into a room with about 65 audience seats. Some perched against window sills or walls, and others stood in aisles or knelt on the floor. Others stood outside the doors. A group of adult education students held protest signs along 20th street.
When the time arrived for public participation, board President Shane Story asked the 20 or so speakers who preregistered, as required, to keep their comments civil, concise and nonrepetitive. Each speaker representing a group was given five minutes to speak, and speakers representing themselves were given three minutes.
The process was delayed when a district microphone stopped working.
"A media specialist could have fixed that," an audience member joked, drawing laughter.
Speakers came up as invited, one by one. Many wore canary-yellow stickers that said "The School Library IS a Classroom."
Teacher Ann Olsen, representing the Ogden Education Association, said certified media teachers have value the district should not discard. They teach students at multiple grade levels, know every student's name and teach a love of learning and research.
"Make sure you do not lose these master teachers," she said.
The board announced earlier in the meeting that it did intend to employ two certified media specialists at the district level.
Shelly Ripplinger, media specialist at Polk Elementary School, described librarians as "the heart of authentic, sustainable reform."
Kathy Gambles, a former district librarian representing PALS (Parents Advocating Libraries in Schools), asked district officials to slow down and take a year to check out extensive research that ties librarians to student success and high test scores.
"If you do this, there is no going back," Gambles said. "Rethink your decision."
Susanne Wadsworth, representing the Polk Elementary PTA, said more OSD students are applying to charter schools or switching school districts. Quality teachers also are fleeing, she said.
"Don't dismiss our concerns as emotional reactions," she said.
Caril Jennings, whose children went to school in the district, told Smith his actions are hurting Ogden's reputation, and questioned why he would publicize increased reading test scores, then fire the reading coaches and librarians largely responsible for the improvement.
Heather Turner presented a petition she posted online, signed by more than 300 people, asking the district to reconsider the librarian dismissals.
Katherine Hughes, a teen student from Mount Ogden Junior High, earned full audience support when she told the board that "I agree with your mission, I just don't agree with how you are going about it."
She handed in a petition signed by 258 of her classmates. Katherine also suggested cutting costs by getting rid of district-level assistants and "letting the people with the jobs do their own work."