Three months after promising the district will bring on as many librarians as possible, state-appointed district superintendent Donnie Evans told a group of pleading librarians he is still working on it.
“I still am working very hard to bring back librarians,” said an apologetic Evans to four librarians on Wednesday evening. “I thought we would have accomplished it by now, but we haven’t.”
Evans reduced the number of librarians from 31 to 19 this school year, according to district records. The district cut 363 jobs at the end of the 2014-15 school year to close a $26 million budget gap. Some of the casualties of the cuts were elementary school librarians, according to school officials.
Diane Brandt, a school librarian, asked the superintendent whether he intends to keep his late summer promise of bringing back as many librarians as possible. “Our school libraries are not being used,” she said. “Without a librarian there’s really no library.”
With a quarter of the school year finished, Brandt expressed disappointment at the slow pace of returning librarians to libraries. “It’s disappointing to see nothing has been done to reinstate all school librarians,” she said.
Rosie Grant, executive director of the Paterson Education Fund, said the last time, in 2010, the district reduced librarians the number of students who qualified for the non-profit’s 50 Book Club dropped by more than 50-percent from 2,100 to 1,100.
“The libraries make a lot of difference in how much reading the kids are doing,” said Grant. She said cutting librarians undermine the district’s goal to get all its students reading on grade level.
Grant said the Paterson Reads initiative to get all city student reading at grade level by third grade is threatened by the library cuts. She urged the district to restore librarians to the libraries.
“Please heed their call,” said Grant.
Evans acknowledged the vital role librarians play in promoting literacy. “It hurts not to have people in place to help with reading in particular,” said the superintendent. “This is moving slower than I anticipated.”
School board president Jonathan Hodges blamed the dearth of librarians in elementary schools on state flat funding of the district. “This is a tragic problem that stems from the illegal under-funding of this district’s budget by the state of New Jersey,” he said.
Hodges told teachers and parents to write to the state to “adequately” fund the district.
Evans noted returning librarians to libraries as the school year progresses forward may be challenging. Some librarians like Brandt have been taken out of the library and placed into the classrooms after last school year’s drastic budget cuts.
“Having a librarian in every school assures someone is there to assist the students, collaborate with teachers, promote activities, and above all promote the love of reading,” said Brandt.