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100,000 Los Angeles elementary students still without libraries

FILE: Multiple libraries in L.A. Unified were closed after budget cuts. Even teachers could not check out books.
FILE: Multiple libraries in L.A. Unified were closed after budget cuts. Even teachers could not check out books.
Annie Gilbertson/KPCC

About 40 percent of Los Angeles Unified elementary schools still lack the staff to open libraries, leaving about 100,000 students without a way to borrow books on campus, according to figures recently released by the district.

During budget hearings last spring, Superintendent John Deasy promised to spend $6 million to bring back the 192 library aides who would help open shuttered elementary libraries across the district this school year.

In 2011 budget cuts, Deasy and the school board laid off half of the district's library aides and reduced the hours of many who were left. Without trained staff, schools can't run a library under state law.

"Students don't learn literacy skills (in the library). They learn that through trained teachers," Deasy told KPCC in 2011, after the cuts were announced.

But despite a commitment to rehire staff, the number of elementary library aides have decreased by about 20 percent since last fall.

District officials said its difficult to recruit workers to work just three hours a day, five days a week – the schedule of many library aides. 

"They are trying," said Ellen Morgan, district spokeswoman in a September email. "I understand it is hard to find people who will work part-time."

Library aides start out at $14.o7 per hour, according to a hiring notice on the district website. That is a dollar less per hour than school custodians and kitchen staff will be making under a new labor agreement that takes effect July 2016.

Poorly stocked and understaffed libraries have been an issue at L.A. Unified for years.

In March 2010, the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) undertook an investigation of the L.A. district's resources, including books and libraries, at predominantly black and predominately white elementary schools. 

"Knowledgeable staff members at two African American schools OCR visited reported that the collections were in poor condition because of age and/or were inadequate to meet the students’ needs," according to the report.

To come into compliance, the district bought new books and computers and hired 40 library positions for schools named in the report.

But in the wake of the investigation and despite school board efforts, libraries remain locked across the district.

In February, school board member Monica Ratliff established a task force to examine access to L.A. Unified's libraries.

"Few are openly opposed to the concept of staffing all our libraries and many are currently interested in addressing the current system of inequity in which some students have access to library books and others don't," Ratliff stated in her resolution. 

But the task force discovered school principals struggled to fund library positions and recommended the district use central funds to staff libraries.

At its September meeting, the school board recognized task force members for their contributions and then disbanded the group.