My name is Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr and my son has attended DCPS schools for almost 3 years. For the past 2 years, my husband Dr. Robert Zarr and I have been part of a group advocating on behalf of librarians and libraries in DC Public Schools. What we – and the 5 thousand (5000) people who signed our library petition on Change.org – want, is simply to Save Our School libraries.
School libraries are a critical tool and resource in all levels of education today – from Preschool to 12th Grade. Libraries and librarians support 21st century learning as well as the most basic literacy – reading and writing.
Two years ago, Chancellor Henderson instituted a plan that put school librarians on a path to extinction. Under this plan, small schools would no longer have librarians funded by the central office. And, bigger campuses were given the latitude to spend library funds on other things.
But this committee, under your leadership Mr. Chairman, found the funds to ensure that a large number of DCPS students still attend a school with a librarian. And, to her credit, Chancellor Henderson found monies for a large influx of new books into most of our modernized high schools and some of our middle schools; as well as a modest contribution to most other DCPS campuses.
Our message for school libraries in the FY15 budget is that additional funding is required, not just to maintain the resources we have, but to improve and expand our libraries, because we are already so far behind.
Last fall, DCPS spent $3.4 million for library materials, including 125,000 new books. It sounds like a lot, but a huge shortfall still exists and even schools that received the most funding are still far below accepted nationwide norms in terms of the size of their library collections. About 300,000 additional volumes are still needed at a cost of $6 million.
The most recent information we’ve received from DCPS shows that no additional money is budgeted in FY15 for books. There’s no money for high schools in the process of modernization. There’s no money for middle schools, such as Stuart-Hobson, that will have their libraries modernized this summer. There is still no money to help the huge number of elementary schools with aging and or almost non-existent collections.
Our schools need an additional $3 million each in FY15 and FY16 for libraries. They need an additional $1 million each year so that all schools can have their collections refreshed. Many schools need new technology in their libraries, including computers, SmartBoards, eReaders, document cameras, and other devices to help leverage a 21st century library. It is estimated that many schools, particularly those that have had no modernization, need $50,000. This is a small investment for the valuable resource of our school libraries.
Finally, even though DCPS has made a commitment to funding librarians for most schools, a large number of positions have been vacant or filled by non-credentialed staff. DCPS has no additional resources for its librarian recruiting efforts. The pool of available qualified candidates in our region is just too small. DCPS needs to assist staff to complete their credentials and to recruit nationally using tools such as signing bonuses and relocation expenses to encourage librarians to come to Washington. We also have an opportunity with the University of Maryland, which applied for a federal grant to train 10 librarians for DCPS. Unfortunately the school did not get the grant. But DCPS could fund this grant itself. A commitment of $250,000 each in FY 15 and FY16, would produce 20 librarians for DCPS. A program like this was done a decade ago and many of those librarians are still working today and are among our best. We urge this program be funded.
Please keep up your important work and fund our school libraries to the needed levels. It’s no accident that most of us have good memories of our school libraries and our school librarians – they are often the heart of learning in our schools. If you save our school libraries, the community you serve, especially the students, will greatly benefit from – and remember – your strong leadership.
T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH
Parent at Tyler Elementary School
Education Budget Oversight Hearing
Thursday, April 17, 2014 10:00 a.m.
John A. Wilson Building, Room 500