Nova Scotia

Board playing 'games' with librarian cuts: Dexter

Nova Scotia's premier accused the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board of trying to embarrass his government by threatening to lay off all of its school librarians.
The Chignecto-Central Regional School Board said it would eliminate 41 librarian positions to deal with budget cuts. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's premier accused the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board of trying to embarrass his government by threatening to lay off all of its school librarians.

The board, which runs schools in northern and central Nova Scotia, announced last week it would eliminate 41 librarian positions as part of 130 job cuts this fiscal year as it grapples with a $6.5-million shortfall.

"This is nothing but a political game being played by the school board," Premier Darrell Dexter told the legislature on Tuesday.

"They are funded for those positions and if they don't use the money for that funding, then maybe they just don't want the funding."

Nova Scotia's eight school boards are dealing with a combined funding cut of $13.4 million or 1.3 per cent, which the provincial government has said is necessary because of a continuing decline in student enrolment.

Dexter told reporters the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board's proposed librarian cuts were unacceptable, but he wouldn't say what the government would do until the board finalizes its decision.

"I am distressed to see the board, who are supposed to be the partners of the provincial government in the delivery of appropriate educational services, making decision that — in my opinion — are simply designed to try to embarrass the government," said Dexter.

"This is simply a game. It's the same one that they played last year when they set out all kinds of cuts. They scared a lot of people. In the end, no teacher lost their job."

Trudy Thompson, chair of the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board, said she was surprised by Dexter's comments, given the board had worked hard last year to keep cuts out of the classroom by reducing administration by nearly 20 per cent.

Thompson said the board made the decision to lay off librarians after cutting transportation, supplies and maintenance.

"Last year, we were able to minimize the impact to the classroom, but this year we do not have that ability," Thompson said.

"As a board, we have worked and lobbied very hard to put programs, services and supports in place for students and right now it's like watching my home that I've worked so hard for burning down to the ground."

Opposition criticizes education cuts

Dexter said his comments were not meant to be threats.

"What I was expressing was, I suppose, my frustration with the notion that any board would simply make a determination that they are going to lay off all of the librarians in their system and essentially close down the service," he told reporters.

"They know that that would be unacceptable to the families that are served by that board. They know it would not be in the best interests of the children who attend those schools and clearly would not be acceptable to us."

Meanwhile, the opposition parties said the layoffs by the board prove the government cuts are affecting the classroom.

"If the premier doesn't want them to cut those services, then the premier should come out here and tell them what they should cut," Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil said.

Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie dismissed the premier's accusation that the board was playing a political game.

Vivian Howard, an associate professor and associate dean at the Dalhousie School if Information Management, said librarians are needed now more than ever. (CBC)

"Forty-one real librarians are really being let go," said Baillie.

"This is no game."

Librarians needed more than ever, says prof

Vivian Howard, an associate professor and associate dean at the Dalhousie School of Information Management, said librarians are needed now more than ever because students have access to more information through books, e-books and the internet.

"That is sometimes used as a rationalization for why we don't need school librarians but in fact, it's a good argument why we need them even more," said Howard.

"They have to find their way through a variety of resources, some of them credible, some of them not, some of them current, some of them not. And they have to be able to discriminate and make decisions about what's good information and what isn't."

Howard cited a recent study by researchers at Queen's University in Ontario, which showed an overall eight per cent increase in test scores in schools with librarians.

"I see lots of students coming into university who really don't know how to integrate research into a paper," she said.

"If they've had a good experience with a school librarian, they can learn those skills before they ever get to university."

With files from The Canadian Press