News

Too many books collecting dust, supporters say

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

The books in the Todd Beamer High School library are spanking new, but librarian Dave Sheldon said he hasn’t had a budget to buy any more since the school opened in 2003.

Sheldon said it’s not at the level he wants or is recommended by several national library organizations. He can’t add to the collection because the high school’s administration didn’t give him any money.

His case is not unique. From school to school in Federal Way, the amount of money spent to improve a library’s collection or replace books varies greatly.

Several libraries in the district haven’t had budgets over the last few years or have been given a few hundred dollars to replace or expand the book collections and maintain databases. Others are allocated several thousand dollars, up to $10,000 a year, according to librarians.

A community group is preparing to lobby the School Board to change the system.

Friends of the Federal Way Public School Libraries has drafted a report claiming many libraries are being neglected when principals are allocating the money they get to operate their schools. The group is asking that either principals make a better effort at funding the libraries’ book collections, or the School Board set a policy for libraries to receive some basic funding.

“We’re not asking for more money (for schools),” said John Sutherland, a spokesman for the group. “We’re just asking for better choices.”

This is the group that convinced the board last year to return funding to the elementary schools for library aides.

The new cause could be more difficult. Tom Murphy, superintendent of the school district, said he will encourage the board to stick with the current system.

Principals need autonomy to spend money on what’s needed in their schools, and how it is spent is different at each school, Murphy said.

Federal Way Public Schools uses a management system known as site-based decisionmaking or site-based management. While the board and central administrators craft and implement districtwide policies, individual schools have autonomy in how they spend their operational budgets. That dollar amount varies from school to school, based on student population. More students at a school equals more money for the school’s operational budget. That money funds the daily costs of running the schools, from paper for the copy machines to instructional supplies and educational programs. On that list is library books.

Principals “try to work hard for our staff and with our staff,” said Stacy Lucas, principal at Saghalie Middle School.

Many librarians say they know principals have had less and less money in recent years and understand the choices are hard.

How the choices are made differs at each school. Some librarians say they file reports with their principals; others discuss what is needed. At least one principal has a committee that reviews the budget.

Lucas said she communicates with Saghalie’s librarian about what’s needed in the library.

Prices can top $15 dollars for a picture book in an elementary library. Reference books in middle schools and high schools can cost in excess of $30.

When Beamer High was preparing to open in the fall of 2003, Sheldon had $200,000 to buy books and videos for the library and English department. He spent $160,000 and kept $40,000 to fill holes in the collection and address the needs of teachers. When he went to use that money, Sheldon said, he was told by the principal he could have $5,000 to pay for a small order of books and some videos. Sheldon doesn’t know what happened to the remaining $35,000, but surmises it was absorbed by the district.

He said he used money from fines for overdue and lost books to replace lost or damaged items. Last year, that was about $700, he said. He added he was told he spent $516 but doesn’t remember what was purchased.

Many librarians who spoke about this issue noted their school’s PTA helps with funding or donating equipment for the library. Also, the parent group or the librarian holds at least one Scholastic book fair a year to earn money for buying books. Green Gables Elementary’s PTA raised more than $3,000 for the library.

But book fairs and PTA fund-raisers aren’t reliable streams of revenue, said Kay Evey, president of Washington Library Media Association. The organization’s membership is mostly school librarians.

At Lake Grove Elementary, Principal Judy Lemmel said if she made the library a line-item in the school’s budget it would be a smaller amount than the $5,000 the library has this year. On paper, the library was budgeted zero dollars the last two academic years.

Her predecessor had the library in the school’s operating budget, but the amount was less than Lemmel directs to the library from other accounts.

This year’s operating budget was $43,000. It was double that in the booming 1990s.

She uses money from a fundraising account to supplement the money the library collects in fines. A donation from Scholastic was spent on dictionaries and almanacs for the library. If she were to use operating dollars, Lemmel said there’s a risk she would have to pull money from the library to pay for unexpected costs - like outfitting two new classrooms this year.

“It’s the healthiest pot of money I have,” Lemmel said of the fundraising account. It also can’t be touched - because of accounting practices - to pay for other programs in the school.

A third-year principal, Lemmel said the school’s operating budget has shrunk each year and when she arrived there was a lot of work to turn the school around. It was suffering from low reading scores and a host of other issues. Many students couldn’t read the books in the library because they were too advanced.

Lemmel, a former librarian from Mt. Tahoma School District, used grant dollars to purchase books for the library and “leveled” books to address the students low reading scores on tests.

“My number one goal is to get books in the hands of students,” she said.

While she takes input from her staff into account planning the budget, Lemmel makes the final choices. It can be stressful with each interest lobbying her to fund their project or program.

At Beamer, it’s not the date the books were published that’s an issue, but how many are on the shelves. According to School Library Journal, there should be a minimum of 10 books for every student. Beamer has six books per student.

Sheldon sent a report to Beamer principal Josh Garcia about the collection in December but hasn’t heard any response, he said.

Garcia, in an interview with the Mirror, said the 2004-05 budget for the school was already in place when he arrived for his first year leading the school. He won’t know what the 2005-06 budget will look like until later in the year.

The biggest problems with most libraries’ books are age, because of use or information that is obsolete, according to Friends of the Federal Way Public School Libraries.

Librarians are supposed to “weed” the collection. That means removing books that are falling apart, cutting out those that haven’t been read by a student in years and pulling those with outdated information.

To illustrate the age of some of the libraries’ books, Friends of the Federal Way Public School Libraries included in its report an analysis by Mackin Library Media, a K-12 book vendor, of the books in two high schools and the middle schools. Books covering topics such as earth sciences, life sciences, animals, geography and North American history in two high schools and five middle schools averaged in age from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. Saghalie, the newest middle school in the district, has a collection dating from the mid 1990s, according to Mackin.

Although librarians often tout that libraries have changed drastically in 20 years because of technology and especially the computer, books are still needed. Even the Internet cannot replace them, librarians say.

The Internet is a wonderful tool, said Sutherland, a retired librarian from the Auburn School District, but it’s not a panacea.

While some libraries in Federal Way schools have small or non-existent budgets, others have much larger allotments. Saghalie budgeted $10,000 in 2003-04 and again this school year. Vicky Quackenbush, the school librarian, said she’s not sure if she will get that much in the fall for the next academic year.

Saghalie’s library has the budget it does because the “principals have seen it’s a resource for everyone,” Quackenbush said.

Illahee Middle School also directed $10,000 to its library. The amount of money she’s going to be able to budget for the library’s books could change yearly, principal Lucas said.

Funding the library collection and other programs in the school are based on Illahee’s learning plan and goals.

Literacy has been an emphasis the last two years and Lucas directed money to the library to help. The school doesn’t use the Accelerated Reader program –– which helps teachers target reading instruction and helps test students for achievement –– and used some of the money to buy books for its own plan.

That type of flexibility is what principals and schools need, Murphy said.

Federal Way Public Schools used to have line items in its budget for specific programs and expenses in individual schools. Principals at the time were concerned about not having control over those aspects of their budgets, Murphy said.

In the mid-1990s under then-supervisor Tom Vander Ark, whom Murphy succeeded, the district went to site-based management.

Other school districts in Washington have a policy or designated funds for library books. For instance, the Kent district used federal money the last three years to upgrade the high school library collections. Middle schools get between $5,000 and $7,000, while elementary schools are allocated $2,000 to $7,000.

Highline School District directs $5.25 per student to a school for the books. Federal money boosts that to $10.

The University Place district in Pierce County, which has site-based management, directs $1.25 per student for the schools to use on libraries.

As for aging library collections, Murphy said basing replacement on the year a book was published isn’t necessarily a good measurement. It must be determined on the needs of the students.

Some of the oldest books in a library might be the most valuable, he said. Others that have dated information, such as space travel from 1970, could still have value in terms of their reading level and historical value showing what was written at that time.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily bad or necessarily embarrassing,” Murphy said. And he asked if librarians are embarrassed by some of the older books in the library, why do they keep them on the shelves?

J. Linda Williams, incoming president of American Association of School Librarians, said she has seen librarians hold back on weeding because they were concerned if they pulled books from their shelves, there wouldn’t be replacements.

School Board member Charles Hoff said he has heard talk of the effort to get more funding for the libraries but hasn’t seen any information or a presentation.

Noting the district’s budget and, consequently, each school’s budget has dwindled over the years, Hoff said traditional programs were going to feel some of that cutting.

“You can’t do this without having some effects,” he said.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-5565, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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