PSLA Legislation Blog

Librarian Cuts - It's that Time of Year Unfortunately!

By Deb Kachel, PSLA Legislative Liaison

Sadly, it is in April and May that I begin to get emails for panicked school librarians that staffing cuts have just been announced that will decimate school library programs for students and staff. Most librarian who contact me are completely surprised at the totally unexpected cuts and are so flummoxed that they have no idea what to do in response to the announcement. After having written so many emails on this situation, I am curating the best advice and sources here.

BEST ARTICLE (from a school librarian who fought this battle and won):

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Donegal High School Library Hosts Rep. Hickernell

By Deb Kachel, PSLA Legislative Liaison

    

On December 14, Sara Frazier, librarian at Donegal High School (Mount Joy, PA), hosted a visit by Pennsylvania state Representative Dave Hickernell, a Republican serving parts of Lancaster and Dauphin counties who is also the Chair of the PA House Education Committee. Also attending were Cathi Fuhrman, PSLA Vice President, and Kevin Harley, PSLA’s communication strategist from Quantum Communications who helped to schedule the visit. Donegal’s Superintendent, Michael Lausch also visited with the Representative in the library. During the hour-long visit, Rep. Hickernell was most impressed with the technology in use in the library and how instruction is embedded in the school’s curriculum. He watched Sara teach a lesson on using Gale databases as part of a social studies unit. Sara reported that Rep. Hickernell seemed very impressed with what a school library offers to the school’s students in this small, middle-income, rural community which he represents.

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

by Heather Lister
Originally posted on June 1, 2017

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.



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Learning to Read

by Jessica Kahn, Ph.D.
Originally posted on April 11, 2017

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, cataloging 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 cataloged 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.




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Conversation with our PA House Representative

 

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.

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