An open letter from the Save Our Libraries Committee

Editor’s Note: I am reprinting a letter sent to me by the Save Our Libraries Committee, a group of parent library volunteers and coordinators who are organizing to support funding for public school libraries and looking for ways to sustain the mission of the libraries into the future. There will be an important meeting of the School Committee  next Tuesday, June 23rd, to discuss the allocation of around $175,000 from the Town’s free cash fund, which could be used to restore proposed cuts to Library Aide positions at the town’s elementary schools. The letter is reprinted here in its entirety. — Paul

Save Our Libraries Committee
Parent Library Volunteers and Coordinators

June 17, 2009

Dear School Committee Member:

We’d like to begin by thanking you for your dedication and hard work on behalf of the schools, the children, and the entire community of Belmont.  We are a group of parent library volunteers from all four elementary schools.  We are writing to ask for your support in allocating the $175,000 in funds voted on in Town Meeting to fund the four library aides and to reinstate the high school teaching positions.

While we are aware of the concerns regarding the future sustainability of these funds, we consider the libraries to be an essential core service to our schools, fundamental to supporting literacy and building a foundation of learning.  The value of the libraries is both measurable and greater then the sum of its parts.  The issue of keeping the libraries open has involved many more people in the civic process, and this discourse will ultimately lead to more involvement, commitment and buy-in by community members.  Together, the community can seek creative sources of future funding and converse more deeply about its priorities and how to support and sustain them.  We respectfully request that the School Committee allocates the $175,000 from “free cash” for the purpose for which it was intended:  to restore the elementary school library aides and the teaching positions at the high school.  It is our considered view that if the funding for the library aides is not allocated to the library aide positions, the school libraries will close.

As active library coordinators and volunteers, we are committed to supporting the functioning of the libraries.  Our group has met to discuss how we could help to sustain the school libraries in the coming year and in future years.  The libraries cannot remain open without the paid aides.  While volunteers are essential to supporting the library program, they could not effectively manage all of the day-to-day responsibilities of the library.  Our library aides are the essential link to keeping functioning collections in our elementary school libraries.  The library aides are an extremely cost effective line item in the budget.  They function as “librarians” but at the salary of an aide.

Our weekly time in the school libraries offers us unique perspectives on their benefits as well as a sense of the challenges that the schools and the community would encounter if the infrastructure – the aides – to support them was no longer available.  Following are some of our observations about benefits that may not immediately come to mind:

BENEFITS.  Our School Libraries…

  • Ensure every child has a weekly visit to the library.  This provides more equitable access to books for all children regardless of income level, reading level, or parental availability.  The aides are familiar with each child and his or her particular needs as well as the library holdings and can therefore make tailored recommendations.
  • Provide child-centered learning.  Much in our schools is teacher directed and structured; the weekly visit to the library provides a unique opportunity for each child to direct his or her own literacy.  Those who are struggling to read may particularly benefit from choosing to read rather than being directed to do so.
  • Communicate value to the children about this most fundamental of skills.
  • Create excitement about learning amongst the children.  The children make recommendations of books to one another!  They share their enthusiasm and this opens up horizons that may not otherwise be accessible to one child alone.
  • Bring parents into the schools.  Parents meet each other face to face.  They get to know the children in the school and in the neighborhood by name.  They have more contact with teachers.  This strengthens the fabric of our community and our neighborhoods.  It creates connections and provides continuity.  These parents are more likely to stay and volunteer in other aspects of the schools.

ADDED BENEFITS.  Our School Library Aides…

  • Run the libraries efficiently and professionally.  The aides are skilled, experienced, committed.  They ensure that volunteer efforts are focused and fully utilized.  The aides likely could not be replaced in future at a similar pay scale.
  • Maintain the integrity of the collections.  They ensure the investment in materials is protected.  They manage and catalog incoming donations.  Our library collections are relevant and current (and attractive to the children) because of the aides’ expertise.
  • Serve as an important resource to the teachers, students, parents and staff.  Teachers may regularly and easily check out books for their classrooms.  The aide may pull out books relevant to class curricula, provide support for student projects, support parent queries.  Teachers gain essential prep time that will need to be made up if aides are cut.

In this year fraught with challenges and changes within our schools it is even more important that we maintain the continuity of this essential service.  As Wellington relocates in the coming year, its library aide will be essential to preserve the viability of the library collection.  As Butler welcomes its new principal, the continuity at the “heart” of the school, its library, will be helpful to him as he establishes connections with both students and parents.

Thank you for your careful consideration and anticipated support for reinstating the library aides.

Sincerely,
Save Our Libraries Committee, Parent Library Coordinators and Volunteers

Burbank:
Alisa Gardner-Todreas
Sue Morris

Ilyse Robbins Mohr

Butler:
Colleen Goodsell
Kathleen Kim
Joanne MacIsaac
Amanda Sawires Yager
Yuri Sung

Wellington:
Melina Jacovides
Christel Libenson

Janine Sciarappa
Heidi Steinert

Winn Brook:
Jennifer Angel
Mac Devivo
Joanne Lonergan

Reminder: Brendan’s Home Run 5K this weekend

Just a reminder that the 8th running of “Brendan’s Home Run,” sponsored by the Brendan Grant Foundation is this Sunday, June 21st (Father’s Day). The race starts and ends at the Belmont High School Track and follows a course down Cross St. then around and back on Channing Rd. You can download the registration form here. The entry fee is $20 now that the early registration deadline has passed. I’m planning to run it this year, for the first time, after schedule conflicts have prevented me from running it before. The race draws some pretty serious competition — the winning time last year for men was 15:25. Best time for women was 18:26. Festivities start at 9:30 am with a 5k charity walk. The gun fires at 10:00am for the 5K race and there are 400m and 800m races for the kids. Check it out.

Federal stimulus goodness for house, auto upgrades

There was such a flurry of stimulus and incentive programs passed in the first months of the Obama administration (and the waning months of the Bush administration), that many of us haven’t yet figured out what programs are there to plug in to. Fortunately, a lot of the dust is starting to settle on the various incentives that were put in place to stimulate spending (and other initiatives, like energy efficiency) and it seems like more are on the way. A trio of blog posts that I came across recently help explain.

Money for energy efficiency: Zillow.com’s blog recently had a post that did a good job explaining federal tax rebates available for folks who make improvements to their homes that increase their energy efficiency. Insulated windows are the best example of this — and homeowners can recoup up to $1,500 (or 30% of the total cost) of such improvements between now and the end of 2010.

But wait…there’s more…

NYT blogger Steven Levitt writes on the Freakonomics blog about pending Cash For Clunkers legislation that would give big tax refunds to owners of old, fuel inefficient vehicles that would encourage them to junk them and buy a new, fuel efficient vehicle. This legislation is modeled on similar programs in Germany and France and is still working its way through Congress, and Levitt points out that — as written — it would only apply to a narrow slice of the nation’s aging car fleet (vehicles that get less than 18 mpg), but its safe to assume that the bill that emerges may well set a lower bar for what qualifies as a clunker and give those of us (including me) who drive around in old, beat up cars a big incentive to upgrade this year or next.

$15,000 to buy a new house?! Most of you have already heard about the federal $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers. But we go back to the Zillow.com blog for a story about an effort by one Republican Senator to boost the federal tax credit for home buyers to $15,000 and remove current restrictions that limit the credit to first time home buyers, and set income ceilings on who can take advantage of the credit. No word on the bill’s chances, but if passed it would greatly expand the pool of those who have an incentive to buy, wrapping in the population of existing home owners who must now sit on the sidelines. And, if we’re to believe this story on CNN.com, it could also create the possibility of the U.S. Govt. paying for 100% of the price of a home in really depressed markets like Detroit, MI (avg home price: $11,533) and putting a few dollars back in buyers’ pockets, to boot!