RED BANK: BOARD DEFENDS LIBRARY LAYOFFS

rbpl board 022714 1The library board of the trustees at a meeting in February. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03Responding to “misinformation” and “half-truths… stretched beyond their limits” surrounding layoffs of half the staff at the Red Bank Public Library last week, the library’s board of trustees is pushing back.

In a question-and-answer document prepared by six of eight board members and obtained by redbankgreen, the trustees say that personnel costs accounted for 95 percent of the library budget before the layoffs, which affected six of the 11 staff members.

The layoffs were part of a library “reorganization” that “eliminates our deficit, allows us to right-size the Library for the budget, and sustains the Library for the future,” the trustees say in the Q&A. “The solution implemented [at a board meeting following the layoffs] on March 13 was just one step in a much larger process that began in 2013 when it became clear that even with stringent cuts in expenditures last year, the Library was living beyond its means.”

The Q&A, which has not yet been officially approved by the board, was passed to redbankgreen by a trustee on the condition his or her name not be disclosed. The board member said in an email that “the reason for the anonymity is that urgency of the situation wouldn’t allow a quorum to vote on getting this out as fast as it needed to. Our board meets Thurs Mar 27 and the public needs answers now.”

Six of the board’s eight members had a hand in drafting the document, so it reflects the thinking of the majority of the board, the member said.

During an emotional brough council meeting last Wednesday, hours after the pink slips were handed out, five board members sat in silence as laid-off librarians, residents and others asked how the library found itself facing a $131,000 operating deficit this year.

Because board meetings are open to the public and the library’s budget is posted online, “we assumed people knew of our dire straits,” the board member wrote in an email to redbankgreen  Monday night. But “while listening to the public comments at the Council meeting last week and reading comments posted thereafter on blogs and on Red Bank Green (someone actually suggested that the reduction in personnel is connected with a secret plot to bring back the fireworks), we discovered people were uninformed.

“As the half-truths are stretched beyond their limits, it became apparent that we needed to clarify the library’s situation and explain how we decided to take drastic measures,” the board member wrote.

“It does not escape us that lives have been impacted by our decisions,” the board member wrote. “We have been for the past year struggling with the reality of our situation – rising personnel costs slammed against a decrease in yearly guaranteed funding. We were faced with the choice of becoming fiscally responsible today or ignoring our deficit and potentially having to close the library for good in the next year. We chose the hard task of becoming fiscally responsible.”

Here’s the full document: RBPL Reorganization Q&A 031814

Separately, the board announced on Saturday that the cuts will necessitate changes in the library’s hours of operations.

From that announcement:

As a result of the reorganization, the library will close for several days in March, while staffing arrangements and priorities are put in order. Exact hours will be posted on the front door of the library. The public may call the Library at 732-842-0690, or check the website at www.redbanklibrary.org for any changes that might have been made in the schedule.

The Trustees regret very deeply that these changes are necessary, and feel a great sense of loss about them, noted Board President Grandits. But these actions will assure the future, long-term financial standing of the Library. “We appreciate the efforts of the Director and the hard work of the staff through these tough times,” he added. “The Trustees remain committed to providing the best possible level of service to the Red Bank Public Library and will work to restore staffing levels and hours of service to higher levels in 2015.”

Here’s the schedule for the rest of the week, as posted on the library website:

Tuesday, March 18 – Open 1 to 5 p.m.

Wednesday, March 19 – Open 1 to 5 p.m.

Thursday, March 20 – Open 5 to 9 p.m.

Friday, March 21 – Open 1 to 5 p.m.

Please check back for an update on hours.

All children’s programs and story times are cancelled until further notice.

But speculation that there will be no Saturday hours “is news to me,” library director Virginia Papandrea said in an email Saturday. “The hours of service will be worked out this coming week in consultation with the library staff who remain.”

Meantime, though, the cuts have claimed all children’s programming for the foreseeable future, and at least one edition of a regular adult event: this Wednesday night’s book club known as Readin’ On the River, Papandrea said in an email Monday.

“I can only say that we are all trying our best to keep basic services going in the wake of losing many staff members,” Papandrea wrote. “It’s early days, and we’re still sorting out our schedule.

“It will take time to determine our hours of service going forward, and what programs can be continued,” she wrote.

Club member Barbara Withers has offered to host the club at the Atrium senior living high rise on Riverside Avenue, a short walk west of the library.

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