Why School Libraries Won't Be Left Behind; Librarians Are Teaching Budget Makers a Lesson: Students Can't Make the Grade without Strong School Libraries

By Goldberg, Beverly | American Libraries, September 2005 | Go to article overview

Why School Libraries Won't Be Left Behind; Librarians Are Teaching Budget Makers a Lesson: Students Can't Make the Grade without Strong School Libraries


Goldberg, Beverly, American Libraries


School's back in session across the nation, but regrettably, there wasn't a school librarian at every media center doorway to welcome students back from their summer vacations. In fact, some locales didn't even have a functioning media center in the doorway of which a school librarian could stand. Despite incontrovertible studies proving that students are most successful in schools that contain fully stocked--and staffed--school libraries, the reality has yet to reflect the research.

"School budgets are taking a hit and in turn, so are the school libraries," reported Carl Harvey, library media specialist for the North Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana. Although he was referring to fiscal conditions in Indiana, where, he said "some districts have cut budgets while others have eliminated positions," Harvey could have been describing the situation in scores of districts across the country.

What follows is a series of budgetary-impact snapshots provided to American Libraries by media specialists throughout the summer, as well as from community newspaper reports.

* Last spring, the Tamworth (N.H.) School Board eliminated the media specialist position at the Kenneth A. Brett Elementary School to fund a certified computer instructor post. John Perkins, librarian at Brett for 17 years, fought back after discovering that the state code had just that year begun mandating a certified media specialist in every school library. He won back his post June 24. "People think kids can go into the future with just the Web, and the filtered Web at that," Perkins remarked.

* "We are one of the few districts in the state to have certified teacher-librarians in all buildings," observed Centerville (Ohio) City Schools' Library Media Coordinator Christine Findlay. With no state requirement that a certified librarian run each media center, most Ohio districts lack adequate staffing, Findlay explained.

* Six years after Minnesota rescinded its mandate that every school library be run by a certified teacher-librarian, administrators in the St. Paul Public Schools are replacing media specialists with parent volunteers and teaching assistants. "Is it acceptable to replace teachers or administrators with noncertified staff?" Linda Wise librarian/media specialist of Como Park Senior High School in St. Paul asked rhetorically.

* In Texas, legislators spent the summer trying unsuccessfully to revamp the school funding formula for FY 2005-06. The court-ordered overhaul, which has been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, stems from a class-action suit won in 2003 by affluent school districts that scuttles what is known as the Robin Hood system: the redistribution of property taxes from communities with high assessments to those with less-valuable lots to equalize school-district funding. Gloria Meraz, director of communications for the Texas Library Association, said that the High Court is scheduled to consider the case in October.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Since the 1980s, school districts in North Carolina, Arkansas, Montana, and elsewhere have won class-action lawsuits to put into place variations on the tax-redistribution model whose constitutionality is being challenged in Texas. The fallout from these actions continues unabated: In June, the Kansas Supreme Court forced the legislature to increase FY 2005-06 education funding by $148 million, enabling Wichita school officials to hire more media specialists, according to the July 9 Wichita Eagle. Meantime, suits challenging school funding formulas are making their way through the courts in Missouri and New Hampshire.

California scheming

School library funding issues were also heating up in California, the state that has become a national hotbed for cultural and political trends.

Beginning with FY 2005-06, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has rolled the seven-year-old California Public School Library Act, which established a dedicated budget line for school library materials (AL, Oct. …

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