LAND O'LAKES — Dozens of Pasco school media specialists and their supporters filled the School Board chambers to standing-room only Tuesday evening to defend their jobs.
They've considered their livelihoods at risk since superintendent Kurt Browning announced two weeks ago that he would eliminate their positions and send them into classrooms to teach.
Browning also has proposed dropping literacy coaching jobs from the district. He has estimated the move could save about $5 million in the effort to cut spending by $23 million.
His plan to revamp the way that media and technology leadership is provided in the schools has yet to be fully related to the employees. But they did not hesitate to decry the notion of changing from a model that has been found through research to be successful and vital.
"The resources that they have, that they know, the special training they have, it's such a blessing that they are in the schools," said Joyce Carroll, a 30-year teacher.
The School Board received 55 requests to speak for three minutes each. Policy required a vote of the board to go beyond an hour of public comment.
Chairwoman Cynthia Armstrong suggested that if speakers kept it short, or rose as a group, more people could get time.
"I do want everyone to feel that your voice is heard. However, we do want to get through the business meeting in a timely manner," Armstrong said.
Students, former students and teachers joined the media specialists in a passionate defense of their role. They kept their applause brief to allow as many people as possible to speak.
Belinda Pope, media specialist at Sand Pine Elementary, told the board that she and others in her role are the "front-line people" in the media centers, which she called the "biggest classrooms in the school."
They help teachers work with technology in their lessons, provide reading motivation programs to students and teach children to use information ethically, Pope noted.
"We are the experts in the field," she said. "Our classroom teachers have so much on their plates right now. You are throwing them more than they can handle."
Michelle Martinez, media specialist at Lacoochee Elementary, stressed the importance of media specialists in implementing the Common Core State Standards.
The standards are about providing engaging instruction and hands-on analytical projects.
"Media specialists are the complete package for this," Martinez said. "Media specialists want our profession to be recognized and treated with respect. We do so much that you can't afford to lose."
Land O'Lakes High School media specialist Kris Keppel urged board members to visit schools and learn for themselves the job that he and others do.
He also suggested that individual school advisory committees should play a part in the decision of what to do with media specialists.
"It should be a school-based decision," Keppel said.
Hudson High School junior Megan Boyer carried a banner, signed by dozens of students, reading "Do what is best for the students."
That meant retaining media specialists.
"Our media specialists affect our lives every day," Boyer told the board. "We go in and say we need help, they're there." The proposal to eliminate them, she said, "is hurting the students."
The superintendent's proposal has not yet been formally presented to the board. It is slated to come as a budget recommendation later in the spring.
Media specialist jobs also were slashed just two years ago, when most of them were required to serve two schools rather than one. Many said the real result was to give them two full-time jobs, as each school they worked at had full demands.