OAKLAND – Controversy surrounding the library at Castlemont Community of Small Schools flared Sept. 26 at an Oakland Unified School District Board of Education meeting, when directors Alice Spearman and Gregory Hodges asked why the Castlemont did not have a fully functioning library.

“There are some things a school has to have. They have to have libraries,” said Spearman.

While there is a library room at Castlemont, it is less than half the size it was in 2004 when the underperforming school was split into three smaller schools that share one campus. That’s when principals at the three schools reprioritized their budgets with an eye towards improving attendance and student performance, and school librarian, Lillian Webb was laid off.

Principals Denise Jeffrey and Rick Gaston say that when the school was divided, they had small budgets and students in dire need. They had to make some tough decisions.

“The priority was the classroom and the student,” said Jeffrey.

Leadership Preparatory math teacher and Oakland Education Association board member Jack Gerson is impressed with the learning atmosphere at Castlemont since the move to small schools. Attendance has improved, the sense of community and safety is better, and he now knows all of the students at his school. He thinks the principals should not be forced into gutting the library for budgetary reasons.

“It’s my opinion that the central district has a responsibility to make sure there’s a library at every secondary school,” said Gerson.

Troy Flint, communications director for the district, says the district does not have the funds to guarantee a library in every school.

“We wish we had unlimited funds,” Flint said. “But, like in life, we don’t.”

In its reduced form, the library is open during school hours. It’s now staffed by a library clerk rather than someone with a library sciences degree.

According to the School Library Journal, the lack of school libraries has a direct statistical correlation to literacy rates. The fewer school libraries in a community, the lower the literacy rate.