Statement: The city’s new Central Library will be “within two and a half miles of 57 schools,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said in his State of the City address Jan. 11.
Determination: Barely True
Analysis: Sanders broke some news in his final State of the City address. He announced a $15 million anonymous donation to help fund the city’s new Central Library, located northeast of Petco Park.
The donation closes a fundraising gap that would’ve otherwise cut into the city’s budget or derailed the library’s construction. Sanders applauded the donation and library boosters during his speech, and cited a few statistics to trumpet the project’s public value, especially for children.
“In our new Central Library, public computers will increase nearly fivefold, to more than 400, all within easy access of two trolley lines, nine bus routes, in a location that’s within two and a half miles of 57 schools,” he said.
Following the speech, a couple readers asked us to Fact Check the number of schools near the new Central Library. “Seems high, even if Coronado in mix,” Dale Peterson wrote on Twitter.
The next day, one of the library boosters Sanders recognized also cited the same statistic during an interview with KPBS. Mel Katz, head of the San Diego Public Library Foundation, said: “People say, why do you have such a big teen’s center, such a big children’s center? Fifty-seven schools are within two and a half miles of this library.”
We decided the number merited a Fact Check because both Sanders and Katz cited it to validate a great public expense. The $185 million project is funded by downtown redevelopment money, the local school district, a state grant and private donations.
We asked the library foundation for a list of schools within two and a half miles and it provided this document to back up the claim. It lists 57 sites within the distance, but we found a couple significant caveats.
About half the sites within the radius aren’t normally called schools. They include day-care centers, juvenile corrections programs and afterschool programs like the Boys & Girls Club. About one-fifth of the sites also fall within Coronado, which has its own library system.
Calling a day-care center a school is especially unusual. They’re regulated by the state Department of Social Services — not the state Department of Education. They’re small businesses — not public or private institutions.
The foundation included all those places because they have children to whom downtown library staff now reach out and provide services, spokesman Charlie Goldberg wrote in an email Monday.
“Daycare centers are included because of the importance of early, First 5 education and preparing youngsters to read,” Goldberg wrote. “One Children’s Librarian mentioned the importance of having these classes visit the Library and having young readers feel comfortable and become future ‘Library citizens.’ “
However, when pushed about calling the day-care centers and other programs “schools,” Goldberg conceded it wasn’t an appropriate description of the group.
“From our point they’re education facilities. Are they officially defined as a school? No. Maybe learning locations would’ve been better,” Goldberg said. “That was perhaps a term that was a little too broad.”
In the context of their statements, both Sanders and Katz primarily talked about how the library would benefit teenagers. Katz mentioned younger children, but not those young enough to attend day care.
Before mentioning the number of schools near the library, Sanders said half of all American teenagers used a library last year. He said the library’s success will show each time a child walks inside to do homework, check out a book or use a reading room.
Katz promoted new library features that will cater to teenagers. He said the library will include game consoles, more computers and a teen recreational center. He also said the children’s area would have interactive panels.
Both talked about an older group of youth than those attending some of the 57 sites near the library. Some of the day care centers they referenced take children as young as six weeks and as old as five years. The youngest can’t use words, let alone read a book or do homework.
Our definition for Barely True says the statement contains an element of truth but fails to provide critical context that may significantly alter its impression. We felt it fit this case.
Since the 57 facilities within the described distance at least share a similar instructional mission as schools, we felt the statement contained an element of truth. Each place aims to promote learning among youth, whether that’s through sports, socializing or math.
But they’re not all schools and that may change the statement’s impression. Both Sanders and Katz portrayed an older generation of youth attending the library than they actually referred to.
If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please let us know by sharing your thoughts in the comments section below. Be sure to explain your reasoning.
Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.
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