A line-by-line public scouring of the School Department budget hadn’t been done in years until the School Committee reviewed the budget late last month, and in the course of that it has led to a call for the return of libraries and librarians to the City’s schools.
School Committee members Dana Murray and Samantha Lambert spoke out last month during budget meetings when it was revealed that there was only one school librarian for the whole district. To add to the frustration, most of the school libraries have been transformed into testing centers or even classrooms.
One library in the district has a divider down the middle, and has become two classrooms, district officials said.
Now, both members and Supt. Priya Tahiliani said that when the budget normalizes, they would like to see a priority item being hiring more librarians and returning the libraries to their original function.
“The fact is in a community of high-needs where kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from, they certainly don’t know where they’re next book is coming from,” said Murray, who is a high school teacher in Boston. “I can honestly say the kids that score the highest on standardized tests…the truth is those are the same students that are reading for pleasure and they’re not reading ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ It’s been bothering me a number of years and teachers end up fully supporting class libraries. I know most teachers spend $2,000 to $5,000 on student classroom libraries. Books are consumables and we want kids to consume them.”
Lambert said she learned about the lack of librarians in schools while working with the Everett Public Libraries. She said she was shocked to see that and partly ran for School Committee to address such issues.
“A librarian is not just for books; they teach media literacy,” she said. “That’s something our student need more than ever. They have information flying at them from all directions…The teachers are tapped into what the students want to read, but if there were a librarian, they would be on top of it and be able to provide those books.”
Added Murray, “From a pedagogical point of view, there is a distinct link between literacy rates and the number of books a child is exposed to.”
Tahiliani said she was shocked when she first came to Everett Schools and learned there was only one school librarian for the whole district. She said, however, it is more common in urban districts now, and much of it has to do with budget cuts over a period of years.
In Everett, libraries and librarians began to disappear about three years ago.
“When I was in Boston and I started there, they had a librarian in each school and a library and we built library time into the day,” she said. “As budget cuts came, you saw librarians taken out and libraries over time transition to labs, test areas or teacher spaces…I think it’s a large priority (in Everett) moving forward.”
She said were the Student Opportunity Act money to come through this year as was expected before COVID-19, such expenses would have been a major priority, and likely will be in the future.
Meanwhile, the discussion was a milestone as it was the first time the School Committee really delved into the budget publicly at a meeting – line by line for several hours.
Lambert said they have learned a lot from those who have been on the Committee and overseen budgets before, but she also said it was important to have different voices in an open discussion.
Added Murray, “It’s a new dawn, a new day and a new School Committee.”