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Libraries are known for being quiet, but in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the California School Employees Association (CSEA) fear they might become something else altogether, vacant.
Standing in the sun outside the doors of district headquarters at 333 S. Beaudry Ave. on June 14, Mildred Mejia, a library aide at Park Avenue Elementary, held a box of hand written notes to present to the LAUSD Board of Education.
More than 10,000 notes in a dozen different boxes were colorfully adorned by students and parents with one message: “Save our library”, according to Franny Parish, a negotiations team member for the CSEA.
“Our society is in serious danger of being completely illiterate,” Parish said, standing near the entrance to the building as the line to enter the board meeting extended well beyond maximum capacity. “We have a high illiteracy rate in the county of Los Angeles, what are we doing about it? Closing libraries and not [paying] for librarians?”
Protesters gathered with signs and voiced their complaints about the possibility of 2,966 layoffs from a pool of only 4,800 employees.
“We only make $16.37 an hour,” Parish said. “We have BAs, BFAs, master’s degrees and doctorates, what is wrong with this picture?”
At Fairfax High School, Principle Ed Zubiate said his librarian, Valerie Watts, received a reduction in force (RIF) notice, but while she waited to find out whether her RIF would be rescinded, which it was, she decided to retire. So Zubiate is now tasked with finding a new librarian for the school.
Zubiate said when he first arrived on campus in 2006 there were at least 15 clerks working in the office. Since then, that number has dwindled to six, and they are anticipating the loss of one more.
“As we keep cutting, or having things cut for us, my clerks have done a phenomenal job,” Zubiate said. Although the number of staff has been reduced, the workload hasn’t.
“I have to do things that take their toll on public relations and toll on the parents who are sick of getting the (voice mail) message, not in the office,” Zubiate said. “We are running a skeleton crew as if it were summer school, instead of regular school. Meanwhile we have to educate children.”
Earlier this month, the LAUSD worked out an agreement with several teachers’ unions that eliminated federal funding for trained library staff in elementary schools.
The same day as the CSEA rally at district headquarters, LAUSD honored its commitment with its other bargaining partners by rescinding 3,433 RIF notices and announced that more than 100 administrators and 1,600 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, special education assistants and other classified employees would keep their jobs.
“Once again, our LAUSD family has stepped up to preserve our classrooms and services for our students,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement. “We are grateful for their commitment to help us keep our district as stable as possible during this continued financial crisis.”
But Pari Vossoughi, an El Dorado Elementary library aide – a designation she said diminished her role as a librarian – called the decision to make cuts to elementary library positions into question, she asked if a child doesn’t learn how to use a library early in their education, how could they possibly be prepared to use one in high school?
For many students the school library is the only place they have access to books specifically geared toward their age group.
Parish suggested the district will likely move unqualified teacher’s assistants to work in the libraries instead of trained staff. In one instance, Parish claimed that when a librarian was rehired at a school where a teacher’s assistant had been in charge of the library, more than 600 books were missing, at a cost of more than $18,000.
According to the CSEA, the average library contains an inventory valued at of more than $500,000.
Delevan Drive Elementary Library Aide Andrea Garcia has had her position reduced to three hours instead of six for the past several months.
“I worked for three-hours-a-day for the past three months, and it was a hardship, not only financially, but there were just some things I could not get done: shelving, story time and having all those classes come into the library,” Andrea Garcia said.
LAUSD Board President Mónica García praised the district employees for their ability to adjust and deal with the circumstances of the budget negotiations.
“Year after year, our valued employees have stepped up, helping to mitigate the devastating impact of state budget cuts,” Mónica García said in a statement. “Thanks to their sacrifice, we can save jobs and preserve critically needed services for our students.”
But the librarians said they are the wrong group to be forced to deal with the district’s budgetary woes.
“We are the one person who sees [the children] grow from preschool to sixth grade,” Andrea Garcia said.
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