Chicago Public Schools may be without librarians starting Fall 2017


Gabriel de la Mora

Chicago Public Schools may be without librarians starting Fall 2017

By Jackie Murray

Molly DiRago, mother of a first grader at Wicker Park’s A.N. Pritzker School, said she still goes into the school’s library to help clean up even though it doesn’t have the student traffic it used to when it had a librarian.

DiRago, also a member of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization, said the library is still filled with untouched books.  Students have not been able to check any out since fall of 2016 when the school’s librarian position was terminated. 

“A girl came in last week and asked for a specific book, and I had to tell her, ‘No, sorry. You can’t have it.’ There it is on the shelf, but [she] can’t have it,”  DiRago said , calling the experience “heartbreaking.”

According to DiRago, when parents learned of the loss of a librarian, PTO attempted to step in and keep the library running. Its most recent efforts this month have received city-wide attention including a read-a-thon and additional news reports. 

However, before volunteers were allowed to step in, the Chicago Teacher’s Union came to a school council meeting and said it had filed a grievance against the school, preventing volunteers from working in the library because the librarian position must be filled by a member of the union.

CPS and CTU did not respond for comments as of press time.

This school year, 90 percent of Chicago Public School’s libraries no longer have a librarian, said Marie Donovan, associate professor of teacher education at DePaul University. Librarian positions were the first to be cut with the budget losses, she added. The situation can become a lot more dire if a budget isn’t established. 

If CPS does not receive the budget allocations it needs from the state, Donovan said the schools will likely have no librarians starting next school year. Librarian positions are easily cut because, like art and music courses, they are viewed as “nonessential” positions within the school, she added. 

“A school library is often the center of the school,” said Carol Rozansky, chair of the Education Department at Columbia. “The librarian works across grade levels. They’re a really important part of the fabric of the school.” 

Currently, Chicago is trying to fill a $215.2 million budget deficit for teacher pensions after Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have provided the city with that funding, as reported Dec. 12, 2016, by The Chronicle. 

DiRago said she is worried about the future of public schools because of the reputation of new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Her focus does not seem to be on making public education better but instead on limiting it, she added. 

Rozansky said for CPS students to be in the hands of a governor like Raunerwho is unwilling to compromise on the state budget impasse, which is approaching its second year, is troublesome for students and CPS.

Donovan said the district is not giving their students the best education possible, and officials know it. 

“We are victims of the budget stalemate in Springfield and as victims, we’re suffering,” Donovan said. “It’s not because of CPS. It’s because of Springfield. Nobody wants to man-and woman- up and get a budget together.”