by Joan Kramer
Dear CSLA members, Teacher Librarians, former Teacher Librarians, retired Teacher Librarians, and supporters of school libraries:
Several times I recall reading discussions on Calib that highlight the need for Teacher Librarians to become involved in our local unions – whether AFT or NEA affiliates – and at the state level as well.
After attending the CTA (NEA) State Council meetings for the past year, I have concluded that the only way we will get recognition from our unions and fellow teachers is for us to be active and get elected to our local boards and as state council delegates, to both CTA and CFT. I know this adds another burden to our already complicated and encumbered lives. But it is not enough to have liaisons to our unions. We must have active leadership of our locals and participation in all the fights that are now part of the attacks on public education – which means that as TLs we take positions on high-stakes testing, VAM evaluations of teachers, privatization of public schools, and imposition of the Common Core State [sic] Standards. We must continue to oppose the “charterization” of our school which is a big reason why so many of us are losing our jobs – our money is going to charters which do not hire teacher librarians nor fund school libraries. [LAUSD TLs did a search of charters in our area and I only found one “affiliated” charter that had a library and hired a classified employee to work in it. There is one charter high school that still hires a Teacher Librarian and I believe, allows their teachers to belong to our local union. This is the exception to the rule.] One reason we TLs are constantly in danger of being cut is because we lose more and more students to “Independent” charters that don’t even include libraries in their budgets. Los Angeles has the highest number of independent charters in the United States. Our Teacher Librarians used to number 150, and now we have only 50 that are funded by the central district. Any other positions for TLs are funded by some of the individual schools, but not many.
CTA state council meetings are powerful and meaningful to teachers and support staff on so many levels. Not only are they grappling with the nuts and bolts of state budgets, and how they affect local districts, they are defining the very issues and endorsing the politicians who will impact our lives for some time to come. CTA (NEA) is one of the most powerful forces in California politics, and our State Council, which meets in October, January, March and June, is where these decisions are made. Every Teacher Librarian might benefit from attending at least one session to see 800 teachers, representing their local chapters, giving Yea or Nay to every important issue that affects the people of the state of California. An example of an extremely critical issue that was passed on at the June meeting was the draft “CTA Teacher Evaluation Framework” a project of three years that CTA members know is critical if we are to pre-empt the attempt to pass VAM and other misguided and inaccurate evaluation methods for teachers and other staff.
One liaison from CSLA to CTA is not enough. A liaison cannot speak or vote. We have been assigned to the Student Support Services Committee that is comprised of counselors, psychologists, nurses, and Teacher Librarians. We are rarely considered in the deliberations of our meetings although everyone there speaks to the importance of libraries. Fortunately the liaison from CTA to CSLA, Renee Ousley-Swank, is part of the curriculum committee where she has made great inroads into affecting policy. Had I understood better what the role would be, I would have endeavored to be an active part of my local chapter – UTLA – a formidable group in the first place. Many of you who reside in smaller districts stand a much better chance of being elected to your local chapters and then to the state council.
In January of this year three of Los Angeles’s Teacher Librarians spoke at the Student Support Services Committee at the invitation of Arlene Inouye, our local UTLA chapter Treasurer and a former Speech Pathologist. This committee is one of several committees that comprise CTA State Council, and as such has a voice in influencing CTA policy and decisions. Our TLs explained the precarious situation we were in in Los Angeles. On the advice of Susan Midori-Jones, the CTA Consultant to the Student Support Services Committee, Arlene Inouye initiated a Williams Complaint campaign on behalf of all support services staff in Los Angeles – all of whom are constantly in danger of being cut. Nurses, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and teacher librarians went to their school communities and were able to collect 600 Williams Complaint forms at 175 schools – showing unequal access and services to students. In May, these forms were submitted to the Board of Education. While for the most part they have been dismissed as “inapplicable” or “inappropriate”, Arlene also learned that several schools were told by the Superintendent to hire more nurses.
The Williams Complaint Campaign could be waged on a state-wide basis on our behalf. We need to carry out the battle for our jobs on as many fronts as we possibly can.
But ultimately I believe we also need to support the larger issues that affect teachers in order to forge ties and win support and recognition at both the local and state levels of our unions