FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Flemington-Raritan Regional Board of Education approved the elimination of six library clerk positions July 27, despite hearing from advocates, including many district employees, who voiced their support for retaining the positions.

Flemington-Raritan school buildings are expected to reopen this fall. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, libraries will have minimal use in order to reduce the number of communal gatherings.

Districts across New Jersey will face financial challenges as unprecedented costs arise to reopen buildings, and certain revenue streams evaporate. Superintendent Dr. Kari McGann recently announced her district has already spent about $500,000 on reopening for school year 2020-2021.  

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The staff reductions, effective immediately, will result in about $120,000 of savings. The board approved the elimination of the clerk positions, one at each of its six schools, in a 7-0 vote.

Valerie Bart was absent, and a new board member had yet to officially take over the vacant seat left by former member Chris Walker.

“Our schools are in the very difficult position of reopening with confidence and providing the best and safest education possible for our students against a backdrop of ever-increasing mandates and ever shrinking state funding. That was true even before the pandemic,” read part of an email from the board to a community member about the decision before it was formally approved. “Now, with a terribly uncertain financial future and unimaginable shifts in education before us, our superintendent and board are being forced to make some very hard choices, as are all school districts. Unfortunately, we should expect that there will be more difficult financial decisions ahead under the COVID-19 crisis, not only for our board, but also for families, businesses and all institutions across society.”

About 10 people, many of whom work in the school libraries, urged the board to reconsider.

“On behalf of the FREA (Flemington-Raritan Education Association), we would like to express our opposition to the dismissal of the library clerks,” said Library Media Specialist Crystal DiBetta, a 29-year employee. “Eliminating this position will have far-reaching consequences for students and staff. It will severely limit their ability to access and evaluate information and become lifelong readers and learners. There may be a good reason to close the libraries’ physical space during this pandemic, but there is no good reason to shut down library services. Science does not support it.”

McGann emphasized on a couple of occasions that the district will not be closing their libraries, but there will be new protocols in place, such as how to quarantine books after use.

“’I’m so regretful of this,” McGann said. “Anybody that knows me knows that I cherish books. It’s not that I want to quarantine our libraries or throw (out) books, and not allow kids to check out books. That’s not going to happen. We just have to do it in a different way.”

According to McGann, the six former employees have been offered an alternative position as a member of the school's brand new Health and Hygiene Team, “because we don’t want to lose them.”

These individuals will be able to continue to work in the same school where they served as a library clerk.

The position pays $14 per hour, and each would serve .57 of a full-time position, equaling the amount of time they served as a library clerk. As of July 27, none of the former clerks had accepted the opportunity, but McGann was hopeful they would reconsider.

According to the resolution, in initiating the elimination of the clerk positions, a board of education may “reduce the number of teaching staff members employed in the district whenever, in the judgment of the board, it is advisable to abolish any such positions for reasons of economy or because of reduction in the number of pupils or of change in the administrative or supervisory organization of the district or for other good cause.”

“It’s terrible,” McGann said in a telephone interview before the formal vote. “It’s the absolute worst part of my job.”