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State ed chief rules city must put more librarians in middle and high schools

State Education Commissioner John King visits in 2013 with second cousin Stephanie Smith, a librarian at George Wingate Educational Complex since 1969.
State Education Commissioner John King visits in 2013 with second cousin Stephanie Smith, a librarian at George Wingate Educational Complex since 1969.
Geoff Decker

State Education Commissioner John King has rejected the city’s request to employ fewer librarians in schools — in part because the city took too long to come up with an alternative plan to provide library services to students.

King said he was “troubled” by the number of city schools that don’t have librarians on staff, a violation of state regulations. In a regulatory decision he issued to the city and union lawyers representing librarians last week, King ordered the city to begin following the rules immediately.

That may have financial implications for many city schools, especially the smaller ones created during the Bloomberg administration that have increasingly gone without full-time librarians. Between 2009 and 2013, the number of librarians in schools dropped from 399 to 333.

Under the state regulations, secondary schools must have a librarian for at least one class period every day. Schools with between 300 and 500 students must have one for at least half of the day, while schools with 700 or more students must employ a full-time librarian.

The city teachers union appealed to the state last year that many schools were out of compliance with the regulations. In response, city officials didn’t dispute the shrinking number of librarians, arguing instead that the traditional librarian role was less important in schools than it used to be because more school book collections are housed online or in classrooms. The city promised the state that it would “provide an alternative arrangement.”

“To date, no such comprehensive plan has been submitted,” King wrote in his decision, in which he also rejected the union’s appeal.

On Monday, Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye declined to say what the city’s next steps would be or whether the city would commit to staffing the librarian positions. She also would not say if the city agreed with the decision that schools should staff more librarians.

“School libraries bring tremendous value to school communities, and ensuring all students have access to information services is priority,” she said. “We are working collaboratively with our partners on a plan to address this.”

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