The senior administrators of Montreal’s English-language school boards are surprised and saddened after Education Minister Yves Bolduc said libraries have enough books.
Bolduc’s statement was made to Le Devoir in the context of budget cuts for the coming school year.
'Books are an essential part of a child’s growing up — learning to read and learning to love learning.' - Suanne Stein Day, school board chairwoman
He told the newspaper, in French, that no child would die or stop reading because of fewer books in school libraries, since they still had some books.
“I would prefer [that libraries] buy fewer books. Our libraries are already well-equipped. Go in the schools. There are books… books that were bought last year, two years ago, 20 years ago,” Bolduc told Le Devoir.
Premier Philippe Couillard on Friday commented on Bolduc's statement.
"Are there too many or not enough? What's important is that there are always new books [coming into libraries], that the books are interesting for the children," Couillard said.
Bolduc's office issues statement
Bolduc declined CBC’s request for an interview to clarify his statements due to scheduling conflicts, but his office did issue a statement.
“Our government has always promoted reading and books to teach young people to enjoy reading and to include reading in their daily activities,” read the statement, which was written in French.
Education department spokeswoman Marie-Ève Bédard said that the government launched an initiative in 2005 to encourage young students to read. Bédard said that before the action plan, a school with 300 students had an average of 3,000 books.
After the initiative was launched, she continued, the number of books was raised to 4,500.
“That isn’t a high number,” David D'Aoust, president of the Quebec English School Boards Association, told CBC Radio-Noon host Shawn Apel on Friday.
He said he was both surprised and disappointed to read Bolduc’s statements to Le Devoir.
D'Aoust continued, saying many parents have worked hard to fundraise for school libraries over the years and that the statements made were a “slap in the face” to them.
“They fundraise for us and they make our English public school libraries what they are today,” he said.
Lester B. Pearson School Board chairwoman Suanne Stein Day told CBC Daybreak on Friday morning that schools have had their budgets cut year after year for the past several years.
Budget cuts and the quality of education
Still, she said administrators are told not to compromise the quality of students’ education.
She told Daybreak host Ainslie MacLellan that she didn’t know exactly how it was possible that budget cuts wouldn’t affect the quality of teaching and services offered to students.
“Books are an essential part of a child’s growing up — learning to read and learning to love learning, so it’s a little sad," Stein Day said.
“Having said that, school boards are having to deal with budget cuts and specifically the grant for library books has been cut, in our case 37 per cent. So, we have to figure out ways to deal with not only that cut, but in Lester B. Pearson’s case, up to $4 million in additional cuts in our school board this year,” she said.
She said that she expected to vote in the Lester B. Pearson’s first deficit budget at Monday’s school board council meeting.
“The plan is no, not to buy new books. Having said that, our libraries are very well-stocked right now,” she said.
Although the Education Ministry’s Bédard said the government is maintaining its investments for schools to buy new books, D'Aoust said that it’s simply not enough.