School Libraries in NELA Escape the Budget Ax

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By Eliot Brody 

Applause and tears of joy erupted at a School Board meeting on May 21, when Austin Beutner, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), announced that the district’s elementary school libraries would be fully funded for the 2019-2020 school year. The announcement reversed an earlier decision by LAUSD that would have cut library funding.

Libraries that were on the chopping block but will now remain open include those at Eagle Rock Elementary and Dahlia Heights in Eagle Rock, Bushnell Way in Highland Park and Mt. Washington Elementary.

In his announcement, Beutner also said that LAUSD would work to establish a permanent LAUSD funding plan for the libraries so that schools will have more assurance from year to year that libraries will remain open.

For the coming academic year, LAUSD originally planned to make schools find room in their individual budgets to pay for their libraries. For hundreds of schools, that would have meant cutting other essentials in order to pay for a library, an untenable tradeoff. Library aides – the unionized professionals who run school libraries – began a fight to keep the libraries open.

The effort picked up steam in late April, when School Board members Scott Schmerelson and George McKenna introduced a resolution to have LAUSD centrally fund the libraries.

Lisa Quimiro, the library aide at Bushnell Way, said she and other library aides drummed up support for the resolution by talking to School Board members, teachers and parents. Public outcry against the cuts grew throughout the month of May, as the L.A.Times and other media picked up the story.

In the end, Beutner restored money for the libraries before the School Board even voted on the funding resolution.

“This is Beutner’s first rodeo and I think he was taken totally by surprise by the reaction,” said Cathy Ellingford, the library aide for Eagle Rock Elementary and Dahlia Heights Elementary.

Ellingford said she and other library aides are happy to keep their jobs but are mostly excited for the students. “Our students are the winners and also the teachers, who depend on the library for reports and projects,” she said.