"If this goes forward, libraries in [D.C. Public Schools] are just going to die," predicted Peter MacPherson with the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parents Organization, which opposes Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson's plan to cut funding for librarians at schools with populations of 299 or fewer beginning 2013. "We have incredibly solid academic research about the benefits of libraries."
Gray and Henderson have ignored that data. They think DCPS has not received return on its investment.
That's because there has been no real investment. It's time to rethink school libraries: They should be shifted to the D.C. Public Library, placing them Ginnie Cooper's authority.
"We can do things to help kids learn to love to read," Cooper told me recently when I discussed my idea with her. She cited programs in other cities -- Nashville, for example -- where libraries are intricately involved with schools.
"It would be great to put them with an agency that cares about libraries," said MacPherson, who is most concerned about how the Gray-Henderson plan might affect communities in Wards 7 and 8, where there are no bookstores and many homes are without books.
That reality has inspired much of my writing on this issue.
Gray, a Ward 7 resident, has seemed unfazed. Sources said D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown is worried about micromanaging DCPS. There hasn't been a peep from Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander. And Ward 8's Marion Barry has been too busy attacking Asian immigrants.
When elected officials approved mayoral control of public education, they promised increased support for schools, including adequate funding for the basics. They have reneged on that pledge.
Ironically, Henderson has asserted the problem is that some schools are simply too small. Her funding decisions have starved those institutions, denying them resources critical to academic success.
It's a disgrace.
MacPherson has advocated for more investment; an additional $15 million could put a full-time librarian and library in every DCPS school. Elected officials have not responded. Even as they have decried high unemployment and illiteracy, they have ignored the obvious solution -- better-funded libraries with aggressive and exciting outreach programs.
The council is expected to vote Thursday on DCPS' 2013 budget. Members should just say no to the library/librarian cuts. Instead, they should transfer school libraries -- all funding and personnel -- to Cooper's portfolio.
She has been a terrific manager, breathing new life into the city's public library system -- although DCPL has suffered draconian cuts. Its book acquisition budget, for example, has had a total reduction of 58 percent since 2008.
That has meant a double whammy for District children, especially those from bookless and computerless homes.
The council should approve an increase in DCPL's budget and add the resources Cooper and her team will need to get beyond DCPS' lip service on improving literacy. That can happen now; the city doesn't need to wait five years to improve education outcomes.
"There is so much at stake," said MacPherson. "I don't think it's hyperbole to say this is a defining moment."
Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Monday and Wednesday. She can be reached at email@example.com.