The Los Angeles Unified school district is spending $6 million next school year to bring back 192 libraries aides, opening shuttered libraries across the region.
"We are grateful that you have funded libraries for our students. We want to be the voice of our students who aren’t here to thank you," Cathy Ellingford, a library aide at Eagle Rock Elementary, told the school board Tuesday. Ellingford spoke on the behalf of several library aides who sat in the audience, wearing matching blue t-shirts.
Last school year, KPCC reported L.A. Unified slashed hundreds of library positions to weather recession-era budget cuts. To keep them open, many elementary school principals elected to use discretionary funds to hire library aides.
Others tried to use parent volunteers. But California law mandates schools use specialized staff to check out books, stock shelves and suggest grade-appropriate reading material.
Last year, 332 school libraries were unmanned, forcing mass closures. Some parents and teachers complained that, at the same time, L.A. Unified was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on iPads and tablet trainers and IT staff. Much of that was paid by school bonds, which can't be used for library staff.
Parents protested, and school board member Monica Ratliff took up the cause, establishing a library task force.
"We all know that one immediate solution is the staffing of all our libraries," Ratliff told her fellow board members earlier this year. "Few are openly opposed to the concept of staffing all our libraries, and many are currently interested in addressing the current system of inequity in which some students have access to library books and others don't."
With the help of $332 million more coming from recovering state coffers next school year, the board and Superintendent John Deasy budgeted for 15 new librarians and 192 library aides.
There are still 35 middle schools going without a librarian next year, according to Deasy's 3-year budget plan. He promised to fund them in the future.
The expansion means every L.A. Unified elementary school with a library can open it - but Ellingford said that doesn't mean every kid will get in every week. With only one aide working a three-hour shift per day, she said large elementary schools will struggle to rotate classes into the library every week.
“There are some schools that at three hours students will not receive equitable access," she said. It's usually kindergartners and first graders who lose out.
Ellingford wants the district to schedule library aides for six hours per day at bigger campuses, where more students mean more books to pull for class assignments and more books to file in the stacks at the end of the day.