Librarian slams school board
TIM WHITNELL Special to The IFP A teacher-librarian with the Halton District School Board believes students are being shortchanged on funding for library resources recently allocated by the province. While Ross Thomson of E.C. Drury High School in Milton is incensed that the Halton board gave school libraries only half of the $312,693 given to it by the Ministry of Education, board officials insist what they are doing is legal and necessary. Thomson contacted the media after receiving a memo from board Superintendent of Education Gary Sadler, which Thomson says would have been sent to all teacher-librarians and principals. There are 92 public elementary and high schools in Halton. Sadler's memo reads in part, "As you may or may not be aware, the HDSB has been trending toward a deficit for this fiscal year. Senior administration has had to be mindful of this before committing to any new expenditures. As a result, we are distributing one half of the funds provided for additional library resource funding at this time. As our fiscal situation becomes more clear, and as we get closer to our budget year-end (August 31), we may be able to release more dollars to schools to be used for school-based resources ..." Education ministry spokesperson Michelle Despault said the board can use the extra funding as it sees fit as there is "some flexibility in the funding." Thomson is not impressed. In an e-mail to local media, including The Independent & Free Press, he wrote, "... on Mar. 21, the ministry gave the HDSB $312,693 specifically as `an investment in school library resources.' Each school in Ontario was to receive $3,096, earmarked for books, but while other boards' teacher-librarians were out spending Halton teacher-librarians were told to wait despite clear, tight timelines in the ministry directions. On April 5 it was announced ... the HDSB is apparently keeping half of the money to pay down their deficit, and the other half of the cash is being distributed to schools on a per-pupil basis. Some schools are receiving little more than 10 per cent of what the ministry intended them to have. "People for Education have concluded a study supporting the connection between library resources and student success. If the board was truly interested in student success, they would fully fund school libraries as per Ministry of Education directives." However, the board's top administrator says the board is doing what is currently in the best interest of students and the board. "When the money came from the ministry the indication was it could be used to purchase additional materials or materials that had been purchased over the course of this year as well," said Education Director Wayne Joudrie. "As a board historically, and it hasn't changed this year, we spend a half-million dollars on library and learning resource materials. So we were well over the $312,000 mark to begin with. "Having said that, we went to administration council to ensure that the benefit of the additional funds touches schools so 50 per cent of it has been allocated now and the other 50 per cent we're watching." The money is being distributed on a per-student basis with new schools getting a double share. A looming deficit of up to $950,000 for the current 2005-06 fiscal year has convinced board officials to hold back half of the latest ministry funds, said Joudrie. "We're tracking toward a potential deficit budget at the end of the year so we want to make sure we have sort of a safety net and this may help with that safety net."