Dozens of Latino students at Berkeley High are working extra hard this finals week to once again save the job of the librarian they lovingly call “La Doña,” the head mistress.
“She’s like our grandmother,” said Enrique Rojas, a Berkeley High junior. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable going to the library if she’s not there.”
Rojas was among about 40 demonstrators last week who demanded the school board investigate why “La Doña”—Ernestine Troutman—is losing her job as a part-time library media technician after more than 30 years in the district and why she isn’t being considered for the school’s open full-time librarian position.
“Something fishy is going on,” said Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Barry Fike, echoing the sentiments of other speakers at last week’s school board meeting. Fike wondered how the district found enough money this year to hire a library consultant and full-time second librarian when the school opened its new library in January, but didn’t have the funds to keep Troutman.
Next year, Berkeley High will hire a second full-time librarian and eliminate the library media technician post Troutman has held since 1982. Troutman, who received a masters degree in library science in 1973 from UC Berkeley, applied for the librarian job but didn’t make it past the screening process.
She said the snub was just the latest of indignities Berkeley Unified has dealt her in recent years. Since the district suffered a financial crisis in 2001, Troutman has been reduced from full-time status to just an hour-and-a-half per day.
The few hours she is paid to work are thanks to the efforts of her Latino students. Last year, when Troutman faced a certain layoff, students wrote a grant proposal to the high school’s site commission for money to pay her reduced hours.
With the funding unavailable for next year, the students want to know why Troutman isn’t being considered for the librarian position.
“We need her there,” said Angela Fillingim a member of the class of 2003. “At Berkeley High you realize that there are only a few people who look out for you and she’s one of them.”
According to Fillingim, Troutman made sure that she (Fillingim) enrolled in the classes needed to graduate. The librarian also took extra time to find books she thought Fillingim would be interested in reading.
“The students see her as an elder,” said Heidi Webber, who teaches English to English Language Learners at the high school. “She has a moral authority and she’s always willing to work with every kind of student with their projects or research.”
Despite concerns from the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, which represents library media technicians, the school board in March decided to drop Troutman’s position in favor of hiring a more expensive certified librarian.
Pat Calvert, the district’s human resources director for certified employees, and Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp didn’t return phone calls about Troutman’s application for the librarian position.
When Troutman asked why she wouldn’t be granted an interview, she said the district told her they couldn’t discuss personnel issues.
“It’s systematic exclusion,” she said. Troutman insisted the district has been trying to get her out of the high school for years. Earlier this year, she was transferred to Washington Elementary School for three hours a day until the grant came through and she could return to the high school.
Three years ago, the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees filed a grievance on her behalf charging that the district was using volunteers to pay for cutting back Troutman’s hours.
“My thing is to be back at the high school one hundred percent with these kids,” Troutman said. “If I couldn’t come back, I’d be devastated. It would be like being severed from family. I’ve bonded with so many people.”›