Library aides rally to fund libraries in elementary schools

Eagle Rock Elementary school’s library currently boasts a collection of approximately 15,000 books in Los Angeles. Thursday, April 25, 2019. Mohi Andrabi/The Occidental

A group of elementary school library aides attended the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Board of Education meeting April 25 to voice support for a resolution to ensure libraries remain open and funded in public elementary schools. The resolution, sponsored by Board members Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna, would guarantee all elementary schools have libraries staffed with a library aide and that they be centrally funded by the district.

Catherine Ellingford, who has worked as a library aide in LAUSD for 27 years, was among those who spoke in favor of the resolution. Ellingford currently splits her work time between Eagle Rock Elementary School (ERES) and Dahlia Heights Elementary School. However, according to Ellingford, both schools will be closing their libraries for the 2019—2020 school year due to lack of available funding.

“If there’s no funding, the libraries have to close,” Ellingford said. “If the libraries are closed there’s no access. No staff, no access. They can use the room for something else, but they can’t use the books or check them out.”

The closure at ERES is the result of the school’s recent loss of funding from Title I, a federal program that provides financial support to schools with high concentrations of low-income students. According to Ellingford, Dahlia Heights lost its Title I funding in 2016, but received several grants that allowed the library to stay open until this year.

According to Ellingford, elementary school libraries are not centrally funded by the district. This means it is up to individual schools to allocate money from their budgets to fund libraries. Ellingford said the lack of district funding specifically for libraries creates inequality because while some schools are able to afford them, others, such as ERES and Dahlia Heights, are not.

“What happens is the rich few or the ones with mega Title I money, they’ll have them [libraries],” Ellingford said. “So you’re picking winners and losers, as far as I’m concerned.”

According to Peggy Shannon, another library aide who spoke at the April 25 board meeting, around 150 schools in LAUSD have defunded their library aides. According to Ellingford, 139 libraries have closed, but many of those libraries, including the one at ERES, serve multiple schools.

“That’s thousands of students that will be denied access to books and libraries,” Shannon said.

ERES parent Barrett Cooke said she feels libraries help foster a love of reading and learning in students and that students already don’t have enough access to the resources they offer.

“As it is, we don’t have enough library time for the kids to really dive in,” Cooke said.

Ellingford said she believes the provision of quality libraries directly contributes to the goals of LAUSD and is perplexed as to why they are not prioritized.

“The thing that always puzzles me is that they’re so big on literacy, life long learners, college and career prepared and yet you take away the very resource that promotes literacy and develops love of reading,” Ellingford said.

School Librarian, Catherine Ellingford, advocates for elementary school libraries at Eagle Rock Elementary in Los Angeles. Thursday, April 25, 2019. Mohi Andrabi/The Occidental

Ellingford and other library aides present at the meeting said they want the Board to treat libraries as an integral part of elementary schools and fund them accordingly.

“I would like them [the Board] to view elementary school libraries as a service that every student deserves and fund them centrally,” Ellingford said. “Not put them in with the budget like they did this year, but make them a line item that is not flexible, that is restricted and that must be used for the library.”

The resolution proposed at the April 25 meeting was met with mixed responses from board members.

Board President and District Two representative Monica Garcia said that although she is sympathetic to the cause of supporting libraries, the money to meet the funding demands of the resolution is not available.

“It is an issue of adequacy,” Garcia said. “We have many services that support our kids, that are desperately needed in our schools, but still, because we are 44th in the nation in per pupil spending, because of the way we structure our contracts, we have to give schools choices. But they don’t have enough to do everything they want and neither do we.”

District Seven board representative Richard Vladovic said he strongly believes that libraries are essential to the education of students.

“The library is a core unit of any educational institution,” Vladovic said. “I believe that we need to have libraries open in every school, because that’s where kids dream.”

Board District Five, where ERES and Dahlia Heights are located, has been without a representative on the school board since July 2018. According to Cooke, this has made it challenging for parents and community members to advocate for their schools. Ellingford said that in District Five, 27 schools have experienced library defunding, making it the district with the second most libraries defunded, after District Seven.

“It feels really unfair and it is really frustrating to be in a position where there is a huge, huge board district who has had no representation for so long,” Cooke said.

Ellingford has also been frustrated by the absence of representation and said she thinks it has been detrimental to the resolution’s chances of being passed.

“If we had someone representing us we would have the fourth vote that is needed, I am sure of that,” Ellingford said.

The Board reached an agreement to postpone the resolution to allow members more time to review it and inform themselves on the topic. According to Garcia, it will likely come back up for a vote in May.