District clears way for books

The Burbank school board Thursday night voted to provide library assistants or clerks to all of the 11 elementary schools in the district.

The issue of staffing the libraries came before school board members earlier this month when they learned for the first time that a handful of libraries had closed since the beginning of the year or in the weeks after because the schools could no longer utilize volunteers or teachers, according to the rules of a contract between the district and its classified employees union.

The agreement prohibited volunteers, teachers or staff members without library duties in their job descriptions from assisting students with checking out, returning or shelving books.

The district once provided library staff to all of its elementary schools, but years of budget cuts and the absence of library block grants eventually led each elementary school to rely on its own funds or donations to pay for library assistants.

Others tapped into their own federal Title 1 funds.

However, in light of the agreement reached in August with the union, a handful of Burbank schools that had once relied solely on volunteers or teachers either closed their libraries or remained open, but students could not check out books.

As a result, libraries at Disney, Edison and Emerson elementary schools have been closed since the beginning of the school year, while Stevenson’s library remained open, but students have been unable to check out books.

And ever since its library assistant resigned in October, Providencia Elementary’s library has been open, but books can’t be checked out.

Supt. Jan Britz initially proposed having the district fund positions at all 11 sites and assistants or clerks would work three hours daily. But the school board opted to table that proposal earlier this month in favor of adopting a more comprehensive plan that was better tailored to each school’s needs.

On Thursday, about a dozen parents and educators — mostly mothers of Providencia students — urged the school board to act quickly.

Lori Little, who is Providencia’s PTA president, said that without access to their school library, children are “being set up to fail.”

The school’s principal, Jennifer Culbertson, said the library closure on Oct. 8 is going to negatively affect student achievement. Third-grade Providencia teacher John Spence said his 30 students were disappointed with the closing of their library.

“It’s kind of the highlight of their week — and that’s saying a lot,” he said.

District administrators presented a revised plan on Thursday that proposed offering schools an hourly library assistant or clerk for an amount of time that depends on how many classrooms each school has, starting with at least three hours per day and some schools will get four or five hours.

Tom Kissinger, director of elementary education for Burbank Unified, told the school board that schools can utilize volunteers, who may assist in the library when a district-funded employee is there. However, volunteers would not be able to check out books.

The school board embraced the revised plan with school board President Dave Kemp saying, “I think this is the right approach for right now.”

Fellow school board members agreed, including Roberta Reynolds and Larry Applebaum who pushed district administrators to create a long-term plan for library support and return to the board with a proposal by the beginning of next August.

During Thursday’s meeting at various times, some school board members referred to the plan as “a Band-Aid.” But Britz championed it for now, and said the district would monitor the new arrangement through the end of the school year.

“This may look like a Band-Aid,” she said, “but one of the things it is, is to solve a problem.”


Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.


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