Lower Dauphin Sits on One of the Largest ‘Rainy Day’ Funds in the State, All While Eliminating Librarians

by Heather Lister

In an interview with ABC27 on May 17th, Lower Dauphin Director of Community Relations claimed, “You do the best with the resources you have before you go back to the taxpayers and ask for more money.” This statement was in response to a growing number of community members speaking out against reducing the number certified librarians in the district, which is currently being proposed for the 17-18 school year. The district is arguing that by eliminating the position of middle school librarian, they will free up the funds to increase technology and make a more modern space. There are two issues I see with this. First, with this logic the district could eliminate math teachers if they invest in fancy calculators. Second, I had no indication that Lower Dauphin was under any sort of financial distress. So before making conclusions, I do what any good librarian does, I research.

As I began exploring the financial data to back up the district’s statement, I referenced several published documents from recent Board meetings. I learned that both State and Federal funding has increased, the employer rate for PSERS pension contributions is the lowest increase in 5 years, interest on investments increased 150%, contributions and donations from private sources is up 500%, and the district saw an increase in both property tax and earned income tax from the growth in the area. So why the need to cut positions? However, I understood that districts can’t rely on levels of federal and state funding so I continued searching. Just weeks ago, the Pennsylvania Department of Education released its updated financial reports for the 2015-16 school year. One of the biggest takeaways from this report is that Pennsylvania school districts’ general fund balances now top $4.4 BILLION dollars and there seems to be a growing awareness of this issue. Naturally I was curious what Lower Dauphin’s contribution was to this amass of money.

In 2005-06, Lower Dauphin’s general fund balance (also known as a “rainy day fund”), was $3.9 million. Just ten years later, the district is now sitting on a 528% balance increase, with a rainy-day fund of $21.1 million. $21.1 MILLION DOLLARS! Of course, that sounds like a lot to me, but I was curious how it compared with other schools. Fortunately, the Patriot News published a handy searchable database allowing readers to view a district’s fund balance in relation to their overall budget, so I was easily able to compare LD’s funds with other districts in the area. In 2014-15, Lower Dauphin’s fund balance was 35.6% of its budget. Meanwhile, Derry Township was at 13.6%, Palmyra at 11.4%, and Elizabethtown at 10.9%. Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says it is “excessive” to maintain a fund balance greater than 20 percent of total expenditures.

In the ABC27 interview, the district spokesperson also claimed this measure would, “put us on par with other districts”. However, the financial numbers clearly put LD elsewhere. Let’s say that the district would want to be on par with neighboring districts in terms of its finances. Taking the average fund balance percentage of neighboring districts, Lower Dauphin would hold an 11.9% fund balance. This equates to $7,545,195, freeing up $13,554,805. That’s enough money to give every adult residing in the Lower Dauphin School District a tax refund of $720. That’s enough money to pay for FOUR YEARS of tuition and fees at Millersville University for ENTIRE graduating senior class. And that’s enough money to pay the salary and benefits* of a full time certified librarian for the next 108 years.

So I ask the administrators and Board members of Lower Dauphin, if you love libraries and librarians, and you want to be fiscally responsible to your taxpayers, why aren’t you?

Heather Lister teacher-librarian with a passion for making and innovation. Previously a school librarian, she is now an educational consultant with Mackin Educational Resources. She holds degrees in Library Science and Instructional Technology and certificates in Mathematics and School Administration. – http://www.heatherlister.com

Learning to Read

by Jessica Kahn, Ph.D.

Over the past eight years, as a retired, reading education college professor, I have worked with Philadelphia public and charter schools to get books into the hands of children. I collect books from wealthy neighborhoods and books that children no longer want and take them to inner-city schools. In five of those schools, I have also created or re-created libraries, cataloguing the books and arranging the library, in the hopes that someday a school librarian will be hired to run the library and teach students. I have literally catalogued thousands of books for these libraries.

One of these libraries is fully functional today in a charter school. It has a certified school librarian and an aide. In another school, a chronically understaffed public school, where I have set up a library collection, there is a crew of dedicated volunteers and middle school students who circulate 1400 books a month, to as many as four classes a day. Volunteers at this public school also read to children on a regular basis, using the library to meet with students and encourage reading.

I am currently organizing a library in another Philadelphia charter school where the principal assures me that a bilingual media specialist will be hired to oversee the library. I hope this happens. For my part, in addition to supplying an initial book collection, I will train parent volunteers and middle schoolers to help maintain the library.

As I organize the spaces and prepare the books for circulation, I am aware that what I do may be completely futile if a school librarian is not hired once it is established. This has been the case in several other public schools where I tried to create libraries.

When I tell people what I am doing, they have one of two reactions. Some of them wonder why libraries are necessary since children can read books on Kindles. These people need a reality check! Other people are appropriately horrified to find that schools don’t have libraries. They assume that the library experiences they had as children still exist in lower-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia. When I tell them the appalling statistics about libraries in Philadelphia public schools, they are surprised. Twenty-five of 150 public elementary schools in Philadelphia subscribe to the Follett cataloging system (16%), but there are only six or seven actual librarians in the Philadelphia School District–two of them are in high schools. And of those 25 schools, one wonders how many have functioning libraries, where books actually circulate. Less than 25, surely.

We wring our hands about the reading scores of children in lower-income neighborhoods. We pay for testing, and we pay for expensive reading programs, but we do not provide opportunities for children to choose books they want to read so they can develop the habit of reading. Children learn to read by reading. They become readers by reading lots of books they can read easily, reading books that they want to read, reading in their leisure time.  However, lower-income children in Philadelphia don’t have access to books. Public libraries are closing or limiting their hours and public school libraries are non-existent or non-functional.

The irony is that schools in wealthy neighborhoods have libraries. Wealthy children have books in their homes. Schools in poor neighborhoods don’t have libraries, and poor children don’t have books in their homes. Children are eager to check books out of their school libraries. Too many children cannot do that. If we care about improving children’s reading scores, and their reading habits, libraries staffed by trained school librarians are an essential element of reading instruction, especially in lower-income neighborhoods.

Jessica Kahn, Ph. D. – Jessica taught in the Philadelphia school system from 1967-1972. She earned her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership/Computers in Curriculum at the Graduate School of Education of the University of Pennsylvania in 1988. From 1992-2014 she taught at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, where she was Chair of the undergraduate Education Department, Institutional Review Board Chairperson, and Blackboard system administrator. She is the co-author of Learning to Write Differently, which won the Meade Award of the National Council of Teachers of English, and the author of Ideas and Strategies for the One-Computer Classroom. Since leaving Chestnut Hill College, she has been committed to organizing libraries for public and charter schools.

Conversation with our PA House Representative

by Stormy Vogel

After working as a public school librarian for 23 years, I did something for the FIRST time.  I lobbied! And it was a wonderful experience thanks to Deb Kachel and all the supporting material she made available.  As a librarian at North Penn High School, (Lansdale, PA) and a resident of Philadelphia, I am keenly aware of the lack of school librarians throughout the state of Pennsylvania. I wanted the legislator who served a part of our school district to support the co-sponsored house memo: One “Certified Librarian” Per Public School.

On Monday, March 6, Deb Kachel and I had an appointment with State Representative Todd Stephens, who represents the 151st Legislative District, which covers a part of North Penn’s schools.  Deb made the appointment to see Mr. Stephens at his Montgomeryville office after my school day.  But before we went, Deb and I talked on the phone and strategized what we would say.  There are two great documents on PSLA’s website that guided our planning. Talking Points “One Certified Librarian per Public School” Legislative Campaign and the Template for Preparing a Conversation with Your Legislator.

We wanted to keep our meeting short, just 10-15 minutes.  Our goal was to ask the representative for his support for the memo, by either signing on to the memo or supporting if it became a bill. We had three talking points about the need for a certified librarian in every public school:

  1. Importance of digital citizenship and cybersafety
  2. The Instructional role of the librarian
  3. Preparing students for college and career

While we explained our roles as librarians, Mr. Stephens had some questions, explained his point of view, and thanked us for coming to talk to him.  He was very genial and kind, as I’m sure most legislators are when talking to their constituents.  He was genuinely concerned about the students in his district. Our conversation lasted about 30 minutes.  Deb and I left feeling cautiously optimistic, and with a promise to follow up on any outstanding questions Mr. Stephens had.

We both sent an email thanking him for his time and asked him again to support “One Certified Librarian Per Public School” legislation. Now that that legislation has become a bill, HB 740, I look forward to Mr. Stephens’ support and will write to him and ask for it again.

Meeting with my legislator was easy, as I was prepared and had a purpose. It does help to have someone go with you, as Deb and I supported each other with facts, examples, and anecdotes. I finally made the move between wanting to advocate for my profession to actually doing it!   It made me feel good. I look forward now to contacting my city representatives to ask for their help and support for HB 740.

Stormy Vogel is the Head Librarian for North Penn High School and Department Chair for North Penn School District libraries, Lansdale, PA. Library facilitator for the University of the Arts, Teaching with Primary Sources Program in partnership with the Library of Congress. Contact – vogelst@npenn.org

 

 

The PA Legislative Process – Getting a State Requirement for Certified School Librarians

by Debra E. Kachel

PSLA is embarking on a journey to gain enough support to cause the Pennsylvania General Assembly to amend the PA Public School Code of 1949 to require a certified school librarian in every public school. In 2011, Rep. Longietti helped PSLA to get a school library survey conducted that resulted in a major study published by the PA State Board of Education. In 2012, more evidence was gathered in our state’s school library impact study showing that having a school librarian engaged in the teaching and learning process improved student learning and in particular, PSSA reading and writing scores. With this background work done, PSLA with the help of two strong school library advocates in the PA House of Representatives—Rep. Mark Longietti (D-part of Mercer County) and Rep. Thomas Murt (R- part of Montgomery County and part of Philadelphia County), are starting the legislative process.

As PSLA’s Legislative Liaison, I have received several questions about how this legislation gets passed so here are some FAQs.

  1. What is a co-sponsorship memo?

In order to see how much support there is for a potential bill, legislators will create a “co-sponsorship memoranda” briefly stating a position on an issue. They post these memos on their websites and ask their fellow legislators to sign the memo—in effect, creating a list of legislators who will support the bill. Ideally, such a memo is co-issued by both a Republican and a Democrat to show a bi-partisan approach.

The “One Certified Librarian Per Public School” memo has been crafted by a bi-partisan team— Rep Longietti (R) and Rep. Thomas Murt. To sign the memo, PA House Representatives must contact either Reps. Longietti or Murt’s offices or can go online to do so.

  1. Should I contact both my House Representative and Senator?

No, so far this legislative initiative is only in the House. The Senate could go through a similar process creating a co-sponsorship memo and then propose a similar bill in the Senate. Or, Senators will wait to see if the bill passes the House before they begin to work on it or a similar bill. Click here to find out who your PA House Representative is and to contact him or her.

  1. When does it become a bill and get a bill number?

The “One Certified Librarian Per Public School” bill was introduced in the PA House of Representatives and was referred to the House Education Committee on March 7, 2017. It now has a bill number of HB 740. Click on one of the text versions to read the actual bill.

  1. What will the Education Committee do with the bill?

They may decide to hold public hearings and/or local town halls to see if the public supports the bill. At some point, the committee may vote on the bill. A positive majority vote allows the bill to go back to the House for a full House vote. If the House Education Chairperson, Rep. Dave Hickernell (R – parts of Dauphin and Lancaster counties) feels there are not enough votes to pass it out of the Education Committee, he will probably not call for a vote on it. This means it could “die in committee” if it does not move out of the Education Committee by the end of the legislative session in November 2018.

The bottom line—if your home address or school address is represented by a member of the House Education Committee, get everyone you know to contact those Representatives about this bill! We need to create as much BUZZ as possible!

  1. How difficult will it be to get this bill passed?

This is called serious “heavy lifting” in political vernacular. In other words, yes, it is going to be very difficult. Many legislators are fiscally conservative and will not vote for anything that is a “new” expenditure. Although teachers’ unions and the PA PTA are supporting this, probably school boards and business managers and others will oppose it because of the cost. However, 95% of our schools already have at least some services of a school librarian (PSLA Staffing Survey). Keith Curry Lance in the 2012 statewide study calculated it would cost ½ of 1% of the total education budget in PA to afford a certified librarian at every school (Chapter 11). This is a matter of priorities and where the state chooses to spend its dollars. We have to make the case compelling enough to make hiring school librarians an essential learning support for every school and every student.

  1. What do legislators need to know about this potential legislation?
  • Previous Experiences – I have discovered that most legislators have only their personal experiences with libraries and librarians to rely on. If they have had good experiences with libraries, they are favorable. However, the opposite is true too. To give them the “new” picture, invite them to your library for a visit.
  • School vs. Public Librarians – Many legislators think school librarians are the same as public librarians. We really need to explain that we are teachers first and clarify what we teach students that no other teacher does.
  • No Money, No Requirements – In addition, many legislators don’t know that there are no requirements in PA for either school librarians or school libraries in our public school.  In addition they confuse the PA Education Budget line for the “Public Library Subsidy” to mean there is money there for school libraries—NOT! This is strictly for public libraries.  Refer to the PSLA Talking Points for more details.
  1. What happens if the bill doesn’t get passed this legislative session?

We try again in the next legislative session and keep trying until we get enough support to pass this bill or a bill that helps improve school library services for our K-12 students. If you care about your students and t heir education, you need to help us get this bill passed!

For more info and support materials to help you contact your legislator, go to http://www.psla.org/membership/psla-legislation/  

Tweet when you meet or contact your House Representative #1LibrnPerSchool

Debra E. Kachel, a former library coordinator in the Ephrata, Pa. school district, is an adjunct professor at Antioch University in Seattle, Wash. Debra is also the PSLA Legislative Liaison. Debra E. Kachel dkachel69@comcast.net