Adkins on libraries: baby steps

2:59 pm

Thanks to reader gp who points out Ruth Adkins’ Tribune op-ed published yesterday.

Ruth clearly describes the issue, which disproportionately affects low-income students. And she correctly characterizes the district’s moves to address the crisis as “baby steps.”

Libraries are a priority going forward, writes Adkins, and will be more fully addressed in next spring’s budget.

It is clear the school board fails to see this as a crisis needing immediate attention.

So yet another class of thousands of PPS students will be added to those who have already been denied library staff through crucial years of school.

Libraries remain the critical unfunded element of the ongoing PK8 crisis, but the school board has placed higher priority on spending $1.2 million on new text books for middle schoolers than on providing them with library staff.

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Steve Rawley published PPS Equity from 2008 to 2010, when he moved his family out of the district.

filed under: K-8 Transistion, Libraries, School Board

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19 Responses

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Shameful is the only word needed to describe PPS boards approach to libraries. Shameful.

  2. Comment from Ruth Adkins:

    Hi, thank you for this post Steve–some belated comments:

    It has taken years to get to this unacceptable situation of uneven staffing and materials at libraries. We don’t have enough of anything in this district (libraries, arts, etc.) but the Supt. is trying to build funding into the core budget a bit at a time in a sustainable way rather than rely on one-time funding which is unsustainable. (Specifically, avoiding the practice of adding extra FTE using reserves or one-time $, which $ would not be available in the following year’s budget, hence the positions would be cut again after one year, creating even more instability).

    For a while now, staffing decisions have happened at the site level which is a major factor in the unevenness in offerings across the district. One principal/site council might trade off a library staff position for lower class sizes while another places priority on having an art teacher. They are doing their best to cope with an across the board insufficient amount of funding, but it does result in variation in what is available from school to school. Also, there is vastly different abilities of schools to supplement materials and/or staffing thru private fundraising. Title 1, extra staffing under the SES formula, and Foundation grants don’t fully level the playing field.

    What this budget starts to do is move to a more district wide approach by dictating some staffing (not sufficient but what we can afford at this time given state funding levels) on a consistent, district wide basis. This year that includes funding for counselors and a minimum level of “enrichment” at each school (again, not sufficient but a start) along with a new structure for K staffing to reduce class sizes.

    The hope is to find funding to build libraries into the core in next year’s budget using this year as a serious and focused planning effort for how to do that.

    Part of the task for the person who will help develop a strategy for rebuilding an equitable library system is working with the two unions involved- PAT (certified librarians) and PFTCE (library assistants) — to figure out a workable staffing model.

    In the meantime, I continue to look to the supt’s K-8 action team for solutions incl. the 8 K-8 schools still lacking library staffing- see the full staffing spreadsheet at:


  3. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Noteworthy in the spread sheet Ruth linked is that all middle schools have some library staffing.

    By contrast, eight K8s — nearly a third of K8 schools — have no library staff at all for 2008-09.

    Yes, the general, district-wide library crisis has crept up on us and is part of a greater milieu of underfunding and too much site-based autonomy. But the poorly-planned K8 transition took library staff away from a large number of middle school students all at once.

    That is an immediate crisis, directly created by the administration and school board, affecting a large number of middle school students who are disproportionately poor and minority.

    It would be nice if the school board would take a little responsibility for failing to fully fund this reconfiguration they’ve rushed us into.

  4. Comment from Susan:


    In comparing the Funding Sources for PK8 Enrichment Offerings with the Summary of Enrichment Offerings by School, it will be interesting to see how Astor, Creston and Woodlawn will offer Library enrichment with zero library staffing. Same might be said for Boise-Eliot, Faubion, Peninsula, Skyline and Lane, which are all professing to offer Library enrichment but have funded either half-time or less library assistants to staff their libraries. It’s disingenuous of the district to keep making promises that will not be kept. While I can understand the budgeting crisis which motivates replacing a media specialist (certified teacher) with a library assistant (clerk) in order to save half the FTE, the district really needs to be honest in how that affects the enrichment offered to students.


  5. Comment from Ruth Adkins:

    Steve, although I didn’t vote for the K-8 reconfiguration obviously I am now accountable along with the rest of the board, for seeing it through. It’s not fully funded–nothing in this district is. The action team is doing a good job making progress. The schools with zero library staffing are a major unresolved immediate issue. I am still hopeful that we can figure out a solution for this by fall. The longer term structural issues w/ K-8 will need continued planning and work. I wish planning/design work had been done up front and/or on a pilot basis, but that was not the decision that was made.

    Susan- I don’t think anyone would claim that tiny fractions of staffing at schools is sufficient – “some staffing” (as it says on the summary sheet) may be better than none but isn’t where we need to be– the whole point of the library planning process is to figure out what is sufficient staffing and how to fund it districtwide.

    I don’t know if there is a plan for volunteers to staff the library at Astor, Creston, and Woodlawn (as is done at Da Vinci and elsewhere) or if this is a error on the summary sheet. This is one of many items to follow up with the K-8 action team.

  6. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    Yes, everything is underfunded, which is a damn good reason to consider turning back on ill-conceived conversions — like K8 and “small schools” — that cost more but give our students less.

    Ruth, I appreciate that you didn’t vote on these policies, but nobody on the school board seems terribly interested in changing them, or, at the very least, finding the money to patch the gaping holes until somebody discovers the backbone to propose changing course.

  7. Comment from Nancy R.:

    Please, dear School Board Directors and BESC, figure out this problem pronto. School will resume about ten minutes from now. Librarians and assistants are needed, and Central Office needs to take the lead on making this happen.

    If you are forcing principals to make the call, of course many will choose a classroom teacher in lieu of a librarian or assistant — parents are yelling about the large class sizes, and the principals are the ones they’re yelling at.

    But things fall apart at schools without librarians. Students become disrespectful of the books and the space (why? Maybe because they’re being told, “These books are not for you, sorry!”); items disappear; there is no good tracking system, which costs the districts unknown thousands of dollars in missing books, textbooks, CDs and DVDs; the school becomes less appealing to parents without a working library; help is needed in teaching students (even younger ones) to research projects, use the Internet, maintain the computers, etc.

    Volunteers can staff libraries — but they cannot use VIA, the library’s database. And volunteers are not teachers. They may be retired teachers, or out-of-work teachers, or (like myself) former English majors who have a few hours to volunteer, but we are not part of the school’s staff.

    Librarians are teachers.

    Library assistants are clerks and not trained specialists. They are expected to do the job of a trained, certified teacher with a Library Science degree.

    Volunteers can check library books out manually, but cannot check out textbooks. With the average textbook costing around $70, this is a huge number of books that are not being tracked, in schools without professional staff.

    Students need libraries and libraries need students.

  8. Comment from Susan:

    Keeping school libraries open by staffing them with library assistants or volunteers does not equate to offering students Library enrichment. From the data the PK8 Action Team offers on the district website, it does seem the team is suggesting that zero or tiny fractions of staffing in K8 libraries is sufficient to offer its students Library enrichment. Not all K8 schools list Library as an enrichment offerings, but Astor, Creston, Woodlawn, Boise-Eliot, Faubion, Peninsula, Skyline and Lane do while staffing their libraries with zero or tiny factions of library assistants. While I’m more than willing to believe that the data offered by the PK8 Action Team is full of errors, it currently is the only data offered to parents who seek to understand how the K8 reconfiguration is benefiting our children. I’ve been to almost all of the PK8 meetings that have been open to the public and the only understanding I’ve been able to gain is that the real plan is to offer K8 students “enrichment” taught by classroom teachers as opposed to specialists. Libraries need teachers, not clerks or volunteers.

  9. Comment from Marian:

    I agree with Steve. K-8s and small schools have cost our children in the library, in the classroom, and just about everywhere else. While I appreciate Ruth’s position in coming in after the damage has been done, we still need someone to stand up and reverse this K-8 disaster. It is PPS leadership’s responsibility to advocate for the children of this school district and not to simply make the best of a bad situation. After last year, we already know we can’t count on Regan, Wynde, or lame duck Henning to do anything except go along with the status quo.

    While it may seem that the bar of expectations is set higher for Ruth, it is because we know Ruth understands what a dire situation we have on hand. Ruth, we know you have it in you to “fight the power” and create an environment of change. We’ve seen you at it for years! This is why so many of us donated to your campaign and voted for you. Perhaps if you have a strong ally in Ryan’s replacement, this will give you the strength to take the role so many of us are counting on you to take: one of standing up to the wretched and broken PPS machine whose inability to function has taken its toll on our kids.

  10. Comment from Ruth Adkins:

    Quick last thoughts in response as I need to get back to work-thanks for the dialogue, I appreciate it!

    Steve- the commitment is to get the K-8s right–we’re in the midst and finally making some headway & good progress on implementation– there is a ways to go but I don’t see momentum letting up. One huge missing piece IMO is providing access to a middle school option in every cluster for those for whom the K-8 isn’t working. I do think K-8 can be a great model but we need access to both models in all parts of the city.
    Re: the small high schools, that is very much up for discussion in the HS design conversation upcoming shortly.

    Nancy – for short term, I want to get someone in the room so kids have access. For long term, we have to figure out a library staffing model. that is a complicated discussion as it includes all levels of schools, two different types of staff and two different unions. It can’t and won’t get properly fixed for this coming year. The idea behind hiring a person to oversee this is to make sure it gets done and done right across the district. We need the English major volunteers at the table for this discussion as well. Thanks so much for all you are doing to hold things together.

    Susan- yes, the in-class vs. certified teacher/separate class elective “enrichment” is a major issue for everything outside the core subject areas. Amount of time spent, content/depth of curriculum, qualifications of the teacher, and variety of options all are factors. One example being Spanish for grades 6-8 — there is no way you can learn it as well doing it a few times a week as doing it one period a day, year round, with a certified Spanish teacher.

    For libraries, a mishmash of staffing levels/amts has become the norm all over the district. There has not been a clear directive on how libraries should be staffed. Again, that is work to be done this year.

    I agree that the enrichment summary sheet is representative of the deeper problem– simply claiming “enrichment” to mean any presence of the listed subjects (or any human body in the library) of course, does not equate to true enrichment that would be available thru full staffing. There has to be specifics on who, what, and how much for each site so it is reality-based and transparent. Perhaps something with a level of detail in between the massive spreadsheet and the current version of the summary sheet. And, there needs to be transparency about what will be provided at each school and where we are falling short. I’ll pass all this on to the action team staff. Thanks again.

  11. Comment from Lakeitha:

    Ruth, Thank You for making clear that every cluster needs a middle school option. I have mentioned this in several interactions with PPS staff. I do appreciate what Supt. Smith is attempting to do, unfortunately, it is not happening fast enough to impact my child. By the time things (hopefully) start to get better, the district will have already missed the mark for her. Since my child has been in Kindergarten I have been in wait and see mode. We are adding this wait and see, we are reconfiguring schools, it will be better, wait and see, we are getting new curriculum, wait and see. As I have said several times, I feel like I would be sacrificing my child if I were to leave her in PPS. So, i get out, my hope is that things will be fixed by the time she is ready for High School.

  12. Comment from Julie:

    To all:

    I appreciate the energy towards the problem of schools without librarians. My chldren have never attended a school with a certified media specialist.
    Both children attended Hayhurst which has never had a library assistant or a media specialist in the 10 years that we’ve been a part of the community.It is manned by parents, and teachers, and is still not automated!
    Robert Gray Middle School has a great library assistant, but her job does not include teaching research and library skills.
    Both of these school are located in the forgotten part of west side Portland. Much of the population of each school is Title 1 eligible.
    Both schools are dealing with textbook adoptions, with no one in the library to service those needs.
    The Board should adopt a policy that ensures that every school will have, and every student will have, immediate access to Art, Music, PE, a Counselor, and a Library (staffed with a Media Specialist and Library Assistant).

  13. Comment from Whitebuffalo:

    WHAT? WAIT A MINUTE! I thought everything on the West Side was wonderful and perfect. I keep reading on this site that the W-S is a virtual nirvana of education. I thought if you lived on the west side of the Willamette you were rich?! Not so? Huh?

    (Sarcasm. One of the many services I provide.)

  14. Comment from Steve R.:

    Hey, when you’re driving a Yugo, even a Geo Metro looks pretty good.

  15. Comment from Steve Buel:

    I have never said the education on the west side looked that good, just that is was way better than anything in the truly poor neighborhoods. Lots of stuff to do in those schools in the upper middle class neighborhoods, just, once in a while it gets done there, where in the rest of the city it basically never gets done.

  16. Comment from Whitebuffalo:


    Yeah, I know. But I would hate for folks to settle for less than what is possible–or what they deserve. It’s hard to advocate for the west side schools since there is so much the poorest schools need. The more I read these posts I’m becoming increasingly convinced of an equitable system of course offerings coupled with a clamping down on the transfer policy. It would take true courage to do either (or both).

  17. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Whitebuffalo, Keep advocating for the west side. Everyone should advocate for their child and their school. I have never begrudged this.

    What bothers me is when the major players say they are advocating for all children, when, in fact, they are advocating only for their school or schools similar. If The Foundation and Stand for Children would just say they are advocating only for middle class and upper middle class neighborhood schools I would have no problem with them. But when they act like they are advocating for all children, and they become the only game in town, then no one of any import advocates for the poor schools. They fool so many people, who have little understanding or connection to the problems in poor neighborhoods, that nothing gets done. The school board etc. don’t see the vacuum, and when they do see it, they can’t break off from the major players to begin to truly address the problems.

    If, when Stand and the Foundation came to the table the board would say, oh, this is nice for the more well-to-do schools, but what do we need to do for the others, then we might make some progress.

  18. Comment from Susan:

    This grant is a positive step for our K-8 libraries. It will be interesting to see if the training component is meaningful for schools where there is no library staffing or staffing is at insufficient levels. Perhaps PPS is ready to take an adult step and fund certified librarians in every school, as it did with counselors.


  19. Comment from Steve Rawley:

    This is great news, indeed, but at last official report, nearly a third of all K8 schools still had no library staff — zero, nada, zilch.

    Expecting PPS to hire certified media specialists at every school remains a pipe dream. They can’t even commit to part-time classified library staff in every school.

    They did manage to hire one librarian to work at BESC, because they need somebody (besides us) to tell them students need libraries. That should put a lot of books into the hands of children.