Elementary teacher-librarians will soon be off the shelves at one Toronto school board.
The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) is looking to cut 45 full-time teacher-librarians as part of a larger staffing overhaul to combat an almost $17 million budgeting shortfall – caused by an accounting error. Oddly enough, the biggest blunder was an underestimation of the pension and benefit requirements for staff, which the teacher-librarians who are being laid off won’t receive. The TCDSB miscalculated this figure twice in as many years.
A series of meetings held behind closed doors over the course of the next year is where local trustees will eventually decide on the fate of these teacher-librarians. In order to fill these spots at the affected schools, which have yet to be identified, the TCDSB are recruiting library technicians in their place who are not accredited teachers, and therefore, cheaper to hire.
“We have been operating on a structural deficit,” says TCDSB vice-chair and Ward 12 trustee, Nancy Crawford. “If any organizational entity carries on with that, you are continually borrowing from areas that need funding and moving it to areas that need more funding, so financially it becomes unviable.”
The TCDSB has already notified staff that is not returning this September, including 42.5 teacher-librarian positions in this round of cuts. The targeted teacher-librarians makeup an estimated $2.1 million of the Board’s total expenditure.
Existing staff funding models implemented across school districts in Ontario does not include teacher-librarians. Due to this formula, less than 56-percent of elementary schools currently has a teacher-librarian on staff, and most work part-time.
“The TCDSB is in an interesting situation,” says school library consultant, Anita Brooks Kirkland. “The problem in Ontario is because the funding for teacher-librarians has been taken out of the teacher line in the funding formula.”
Seeing as some of the province’s educational funding benchmarks have not been updated since 1997, there are discrepancies that often go unaddressed.
On average, school boards in the province report a ten-percent gap between funding outlined in the Ministry of Education’s formula and the actual salary paid by the boards. Considering funding for teacher-librarians is not protected, boards typically use this money allotted for support staff wages to offset shortfalls, putting them out of jobs.
Despite the Board’s budgeting deficit, the TCDSB is projected to receive over $1 billion dollars in grants for student needs to help tackle employment distribution by the end of this school year.
“Any changes in funding for the 2015-16 school year are due to both enrolment changes and realigning funding,” says Ontario Ministry of Education senior media relations coordinator, Gary Wheeler. “This is to focus on student programming and improved facilities.”
School library staffing is now funded at a rate of one teacher-librarian to just fewer than 800 students within a specific district. This qualified teaching position is becoming even scarcer, in large part to student reading responses on the province’s standardized literary EQAO testing in grades three and six.
There is a demand for improving these literacy scores, but the irony is that presiding teacher-librarians in TCSDB schools usually prepare the students for this particular test.
The results? Staggering. During the last decade, the EQAO has noted a steady and significant drop in the number of students who enjoy reading and are active readers, and the amount of teacher-librarians in elementary schools.
“I think what we’re looking at is a time where kids are learning in a different way,” says Ontario School Library Association president, Jeanne Conte. “A classroom teacher should be able to send a small group of students they have been working with to the library for extra learning support.”
That is where the library learning commons come into play. This space acts as a hybrid-teaching environment whereby teacher-librarians are able to engage in collaborative learning with students and teachers. Instead of the library being merely a book exchange facility, this area integrates new technologies funded by the Ministry, from tablets to smart boards.
While the funding for this type of hub is present, the role of library learning commons has yet to be defined. This has coincided with another underlying issue concerning a teacher-librarian’s standing in education. If their sole learning space is not recognized as such, that only amplifies the TCDSB’s argument to place them on the chopping block.
“Other provinces have that kind of definitive policy and we in Ontario don’t,” says Brooks Kirkland. “When you can’t point to a policy or a well-articulated vision from the Ministry, it’s very difficult to defend the position.”
Regardless, the TCDSB was handed $22.5 billion this school year by the province for spending, which will be the same payment amount going into next year. What you may not know is, the Board receives additional capital grants in their budget from the Ministry each year that cover operations, repair renewals, and new school construction.
Every year, the TCDSB earns a total of approximately $14.5 million in renewal grants. On top of this, operation grants account for almost $645 per elementary student. However, new pupil place grants for school construction are not allocated equally between different grade stages.
“We believe it is more important to invest in programs and supports for students rather than empty seats in classrooms,” says Wheeler, citing an apparent decline in enrolment numbers.
The TCDSB says its locations are dealing with the polar opposite. According to a report released by the Board six years ago, since 1998, they have grappled with excess capacity at their high schools, which collect pupil place grants to construct new buildings. The Board is also carrying more student volume than necessary at the elementary level, but currently it is not eligible for this grant.
“It was necessitated by budget difficulties to convert all library staff to library technicians,” says Crawford. “This means that affected teacher-librarians would go back into the classroom as regular teachers to fill the gap.”
Even though some move back into the classroom, this transfer still hinders the ability of elementary teacher-librarians because the Board is continually working at an income disadvantage. It leaves a sizeable discrepancy with the manner in which literacy programming and library services are conducted.
“It’s a bit of a blow,” says Conte. “To have the TCDSB, which is a considerably large district, to make this move we certainly see it as a definite negative.”
The Ministry of Education has requested TCDSB prepare a deficit recovery plan and is providing support to the Board to eliminate the deficit by 2017-18.
“They are the ones caught between the rock and a hard place,” says Brooks Kirkland. “I would hope the TCDSB would take the longer-term vision to keep teacher-librarians in schools, that would be more cost-effective in the future.”
The TCDSB has finished most of their budget adjustments this year, but they still have to try and eliminate another $5 million before the end of June. This is when all boards have to submit their final budgets for the school year to the Ministry.
Without teacher-librarians, elementary students lose more than just learning about the Dewey-decimal system, but rather an entire curriculum surrounding information literacy and inquiry that is not featured anywhere else. Classroom teachers also lose instructional partners that could help plan and evaluate student success to better the next generation in education.