As many as 145 schools across L.A. Unified may have closed their libraries, according to staffing numbers provided to KPCC this week. The district said it does not have a tally of shuttered libraries, but figures show schools and the district have hired only a fraction of the library aides needed to operate libraries in every public school.
The district has 457 elementary schools, but only 380 schools have at least a part time library aide, according to statistics provided by L.A. Unified. That translates into about one in five schools that can't open their libraries.
Shortages have hit middle schools the hardest — 83 percent of them are without a librarian, according to district staffing numbers.
Some schools are working around the district the same way they've gotten around insufficient arts instruction — with parents chipping in to pay for it.
That's what parents at Wonderland Avenue Elementary, in Canyon Hills, did.
"We can allocate $40,000 to have our library opened," said parent Stacey Gonsalves. "I don’t know how many schools in LAUSD are sitting with their doors locked and the lights turned out” because they can't.
The shuttered libraries are a legacy of years of budget constraints. The district used to pay for library workers directly, but cut them from the budget in 2011. Schools that wanted them had to find room in their discretionary funds, which can create difficult choices.
“You have to make the choice between a school nurse, an office tech, the library aide, counselors, everything - because you can only afford one," said Franny Perish, a library aide at Dixie Canyon Community Charter School and a member of the The California School Employees Association.
Without librarians and library aides, schools can’t legally run a library. The district circulated a bulletin earlier this year reminding administrators they must comply with California state law, and not staff libraries with volunteers.
But Perish said district oversight is lax. She said classroom aides, teachers and parents had been filling in at dozens of schools. The union filed a grievance, naming 47 schools as non-compliant.
Caught, many of those schools shut down their libraries.
Gonsalves, the Wonderland Avenue parent, is worried that the shuttering of school libraries will harm literacy rates among children at the district who are already struggling.
According to the California Department of Education, only about half of elementary and middle schools students in L.A. Unified can read at grade level.