DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Dr Bella Dinh-Zarr, Tyler ES

Good morning.

My name is Dr. Bella Dinh-Zarr and my son has attended DCPS schools for almost 3 years.  For the past 2 years, my husband Dr. Robert Zarr and I have been part of a group advocating on behalf of librarians and libraries in DC Public Schools.  What we – and the 5 thousand (5000) people who signed our library petition on Change.org – want, is simply to Save Our School libraries.

School  libraries are a critical tool and resource in all levels of education today – from Preschool to 12th Grade.  Libraries and librarians support 21st century learning as well as the most basic literacy – reading and writing.

Two years ago, Chancellor Henderson instituted a plan that put school librarians on a path to extinction. Under this plan, small schools would no longer have librarians funded by the central office.  And, bigger campuses were given the latitude to spend library funds on other things.

But this committee, under your leadership Mr. Chairman, found the funds to ensure that a large number of DCPS students still attend a school with a librarian. And, to her credit, Chancellor Henderson found monies for a large influx of new books into most of our modernized high schools and some of our middle schools; as well as a modest contribution to most other DCPS campuses.

Our message for school libraries in the FY15 budget is that additional funding is required, not just to maintain the resources we have, but to improve and expand our libraries, because we are already so far behind.

Last fall, DCPS spent $3.4 million for library materials, including 125,000 new books. It sounds like a lot, but a huge shortfall still exists and even schools that received the most funding are still far below accepted nationwide norms in terms of the size of their library collections. About 300,000 additional volumes are still needed at a cost of $6 million.

The most recent information we’ve received from DCPS shows that no additional money is budgeted in FY15 for books. There’s no money for high schools in the process of modernization.  There’s no money for middle schools, such as Stuart-Hobson, that will have their libraries modernized this summer. There is still no money to help the huge number of elementary schools with aging and or almost non-existent collections.

Our schools need an additional $3 million each in FY15 and FY16 for libraries. They need an additional $1 million each year so that all schools can have their collections refreshed.  Many schools need new technology in their libraries, including computers, SmartBoards, eReaders, document cameras, and other devices to help leverage a 21st century library. It is estimated that many schools, particularly those that have had no modernization, need $50,000.   This is a small investment for the valuable resource of our school libraries.

Finally, even though DCPS has made a commitment to funding librarians for most schools, a large number of positions have been vacant or filled by non-credentialed staff. DCPS has no additional resources for its librarian recruiting efforts. The pool of available qualified candidates in our region is just too small. DCPS needs to assist staff to complete their credentials and to recruit nationally using tools such as signing bonuses and relocation expenses to encourage librarians to come to Washington.  We also have an opportunity with the University of Maryland, which applied for a federal grant to train 10 librarians for DCPS. Unfortunately the school did not get the grant. But DCPS could fund this grant itself. A commitment of $250,000 each in FY 15 and FY16, would produce 20 librarians for DCPS. A program like this was done a decade ago and many of those librarians are still working today and are among our best. We urge this program be funded.

Please keep up your important work and fund our school libraries to the needed levels.  It’s no accident that most of us have good memories of our school libraries and our school librarians – they are often the heart of learning in our schools.  If you save our school libraries, the community you serve, especially the students, will greatly benefit from – and remember – your strong leadership.

Thank you.


Testimony of

T. Bella Dinh-Zarr, PhD, MPH

Parent at Tyler Elementary School

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500


Recognition of CHPSPO’s Work in Advocating for Librarians and Transparency in Education

Recognition by The Sunlight Foundation (sunlightfoundation.com) of CHPSPO’s work in advocating for DCPS librarians, transparency in DC education, and open data. Special thanks to Suzanne Wells, Peter MacPherson, Bella Dinh-Zarr, Satu Haase-Webb and Laura Marks for their work on the libraries effort.

$400 Million – by Peter MacPherson

by Pether MacPherson

Dear Friends:


Some of you may not be aware that last week the news was released that the city has a $400 million budget surplus. This is far in excess of the $140 million that was reported back in November. There are many worthwhile projects that could benefit from access to these funds. I’m hoping you’ll join with me in using a portion of these monies to address some severe shortcomings and inequalities that exist in the District of Columbia Public Schools. The needs fall in three areas: libraries, technology and music. We’ve made considerable progress on the library issue in the past year. The chancellor has publicly committed herself to a library and librarian in every school. Unfortunately the libraries need much more help. In most schools the library collections are old and thin or non-existent. Anacostia High School has a media center with no books. H.D. Woodson High School has 400. It should have 16,400. The average age of the books in Eastern High School’s small collection is 1980. The average age of the books at Watkins Elementary School is 1993. And even Wilson High School has a collection that is only half the size it should be. The libraries need a massive influx of new resources. Spending $14 million to $16 million would allow DCPS to bring most of its libraries to accepted norms in terms of collection size. It would give each school at least 30 periodical subscriptions and give students access to a much larger number of databases. It would allow the creation of a 40,000 volume digital library and give schools the eReaders needed to access these digital assets. And money would be available to upgrade library spaces in a poor state of repair.

The second area where the poverty in DCPS is profound is in technology. The limited presence of computers in many schools is quite profound. And even schools that have gone through modernization often received no computers or the ones they did are reaching the end of their useful life. At Maury Elementary School, for example, no computers were provided as part of its renovation. The school has two carts of laptops bought by the PTA. At Watkins, the computer lab is full of eight-year-old eMacs bought by the PTA. They are no longer supported and once they fail have to be removed. And no replacement is available. DCPS needs 15,000 computers, at a cost of $15 million.

Finally, the music programs are in very poor shape as a result of being starved for resources. I was in a District  elementary school music class recently and there weren’t nearly enough instruments to go around. One child ended up using an empty copy paper box as a drum. DCPS needs $1 million in new instruments. It needs 60 new upright and 20 new grand pianos as well as new music software and access to online music libraries. The need in this area is around $2.8 million.

The hole that DCPS is in prevents making much improvement simply using the operating budget. All schools would benefit from this investment and it would allow the city to bring some equity to resources all schools should have. And there are programs stakeholders want–like International Baccalaureate–that require properly staff and resourced libraries. And none are present in the schools currently angling for this certification. In addition there is no currently mechanism to buy books for modernized schools. Right now we’re looking at the prospect of Dunbar High School and the new Ward Five middle school opening with no new books.

We now have a special opportunity to fix these problems and, in the process, greatly improve DCPS. A vibrant DCPS is key to the future of this city. The need here is between $35 million and $40 million. I’ve written the mayor and council and asked them to divert some of the surplus funds to deal with these issues. I hope you’ll do the same. The appropriate email addresses are listed below.

Peter MacPherson
pmacpher at aol.com