School-library backers try every trick in book
Parents in Spokane launch what has become a statewide campaign to bring librarians back from the brink in cash-strapped schools.
Los Angeles Times
As has happened in other states, cash-strapped schools in Washington are dropping librarians to save money: This year, Federal Way cut 20 librarian positions. Spokane reduced 10 librarians to half time. Darrington cut two librarians. A school in Marysville eliminated its half-time librarian.
Libraries are open fewer hours, programs minimized, jobs combined. In many cases, part timers with little formal library training are replacing skilled veterans. In Pomeroy, Garfield County, a school employs a combination custodian-librarian — she opens the library after cleaning the locker rooms.
At one school, parents said, enough is enough.
Convinced that children and education suffer when librarians disappear, a loose-knit band of parents in Spokane decided to take action. They launched what has become a statewide campaign to bring school librarians back from the brink.
The parents blasted e-mails to everyone they knew to garner support for an online petition. They posted fliers and leaflets at coffee shops, bookstores and public libraries. They began an e-mail newsletter and advertised the campaign on online social-networking sites. They gave presentations to education professionals and camped out at school-board meetings.
As their expenses grew, they sold T-shirts to raise money to fund trips to Olympia, where they have become fixtures at hearings on school finances.
Earlier this month, they hand-delivered 2,500 signatures to a committee that is examining the state's school-funding system.
"We did it to find out if anybody cared," said Lisa Layera Brunkan, who along with Susan McBurney started the petition drive. Their children's elementary school was among those affected by the cuts.
"We realized that the school libraries are hemorrhaging, and it was far worse than we ever imagined," Layera Brunkan said.
State legislators, accustomed to professional lobbyists and official representatives of public education's many special-interest groups, embraced the parents-turned-activists.
Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, was buttonholed by the Spokane parents. He sits on the Basic Education Finance Joint Task Force, which will make recommendations for changing education funding to the Legislature next year.
The district Priest represents axed 20 school librarians this year. Those cuts symbolize the state's school-funding crisis, he said, and the task force is searching for solutions.
Despite the budget pressures, some schools have maintained and expanded their libraries.
At Auburn Riverside High School, Lisa Gallinatti manages a collection of 21,000 books and runs a computer lab with about 50 work stations.
She teaches students about the research process. At a time when Internet searches churn out far-flung results based on Web-page popularity or paid placement, Gallinatti helps students determine the best sources of information. She teaches students the difference between a search engine and a database. ("When you search the Web, you don't always find quality," she said. "Databases are more accurate.")
Each day, hundreds of students use the library and teachers collaborate with her and her two assistants. Educators call it an excellent, shining example of a school library that works.
But Gallinatti knows that she is part of an endangered species.
"It's disheartening. Every school year, there's a new school district that is making cuts," Gallinatti said.
To stem the loss, the parent group in Spokane hopes to change the way schools value and pay for librarians.
In general, they want it written into the education code that school librarians are an essential part of every child's basic education. Local school districts, then, would have fewer options when it comes to making cuts.
Studies across 19 states tie healthy school libraries to student performance, said Marianne Hunter, immediate past president of the Washington Library Association. She credits the "fired-up" parents for traction the issue has garnered in the state.
Layera Brunkan and McBurney both say they feel passionately about the issue. They are active on behalf of their children — each has two — and as role models for them.
But more pressingly, they believe it is a unique time to stand for a worthwhile cause — to get school librarians off the endangered list.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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