Peter MacPherson, an activist for DCPS libraries, penned the following appeal (below) last week. The idea is to use the $13.7 million that a court ordered Chartwells (the former DCPS food vendor) to pay to DC for not providing value in school meals for supporting DCPS libraries, whose collections have languished for years with outdated books or empty shelves. DC’s CFO has indicated that the $13.7 M has not been set aside for any use thus far, so it could be potentially a great source of needed revenue for DCPS libraries, whose predicament Peter outlines below.
In the past several years real progress has been made in improving libraries in the District of Columbia Public Schools. But like many efforts in our city the work is not completed. The good news is that what the school libraries need now are resources and there’s money available to deal with this issue decisively. We now have the ability to give every school in DCPS an excellent, well-stocked library. The task ahead for all of us is to ensure that this opportunity is not squandered.
It’s important to reiterate the current school library state of affairs. We have large elementary schools, like Stanton, that need more 10,000 volumes. We have libraries undergoing expensive modernizations, like those at Stuart-Hobson and Johnson Middle, that will reopen next week with the the same old and substandard collections in place. We have high schools that have only half the volumes they should relative to their enrollment. Many education campuses, grades pre-K through 8, have some of the poorest libraries. The students attending these schools have had lousy libraries from the moment they start in DCPS to moment they enter secondary school.
The collective library hole our libraries are in is quite deep. DCPS needs to buy around 400,000 new volumes to bring all our campuses to national standards. And the needs are not simply books. Many school libraries lack adequate shelving and crucial technology like computers.
The solution is close at hand. In the spring the city settled litigation with Chartwells the company that provides meal service for the schools. The company had been bilking DCPS and there is now $13.7 million in the city treasury unspent. The money that Chartwells shouldn’t have received prevented District students getting key assets like good school libraries. The money recovered should go back to the students.
I’m urging you to call or write to the mayor and all members of the council’s education committee and advocate for using the $13.7 million for a definitive solution to the problems besetting the libraries. The District’s chief financial officer informed me earlier in the week that the money has been transferred to the city and is unencumbered. This is money that can be used to benefit every student in DCPS and does require a parochial appeal. Please express to them the urgency of using the money for this purpose–and that a school system in which more than half the students scored below proficient on the reading portion of the DC-CAS cannot afford to have anything less than world class libraries.