Librarian cuts hit school community hard
PHOTO BY CARMEN MARIE FABIO
A group of parents and volunteers at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Vaudreuil-Dorion, shown here with Librarian Karen Lamothe (holding white bag) were among the almost 200 in attendance at the Lester B. Pearson School Board special meeting June 8 to voice their opposition at the board abolishing 18 library positions as of June 1 and have vowed to stop volunteering when their librarian leaves. (Left to right): Tamara Wallace, Patricia Hacking, Micheline Belanger, Hetal Patel, Librarian Karen Lamothe, Suzanne Gionet, Jamie-Lee Melkonian, Kerri Hobé, Cathie Mulligan, and Penny Woodham.
The special meeting of the council of commissioners called by the Lester B. Pearson School Board (LBPSB) to announce the appointment of Michael Chechile as new Director General of the Board, replacing the retiring Robert T. Mills, was overshadowed by the standing-room-only crowd that turned out to denounce the cuts to librarian and documentation technician staff.
“We’re sure that your many years of service will serve you well as per the Lester B. Pearson School Board vision statement,” said Anita Nenadovich, president of the Independent Association of Support Staff (IASS). “A statement that includes the words, ‘strong sense of community.’ That community is here tonight,” said Nenadovich of the over 200 in attendance at the LBPSB’s Brookedale Avenue location in Dorval, “volunteers, students, concerned citizens, and of course my fellow support staff colleagues.”
Nenadovich pointed out the notice received via courier two weeks ago informing support staff of the termination of their positions as of July 1. “On the one hand, you said their positions had been abolished. On the other hand, you said volunteers would be needed, who are not covered in our collective agreement, to fulfill the tasks, responsibilities, and duties, of the same positions that you just abolished,” she said. “That’s an equation that doesn’t add up.”
While acknowledging the demands the Quebec government has placed upon the board, to the tune of cuts equalling $15 million, Nenadovich stated the specifics of the cuts are at the discretion of the administration and council. “Will the incoming Director General be working with this administration and council between now and June 29 to listen to the voices of the past 13 days to have this decision reversed to allow the technicians to provide the valued front-line services to our students and teachers?”
While LBPSB Chair Suanne Stein Day agreed the cuts were “not a good idea” she said the board no longer had choices. “I have very little faith the government will come back and give us the funds we need to reinstate these positions.” Stein Day said every department in the board would be losing staff to accommodate the further $4 million in budget cuts on top of the previous $11 million in cuts.
“It’s easy to say ‘It’s the government; it’s somebody else’ but it’s not,” said retired teacher Luc Horne, questioning the disproportion between the declining enrolment and the lack of staff reduction or attrition. “Leadership should be by example, to make cuts in your area first (before the schools). To lay off 18 librarians that children have trusted and worked with is unacceptable.”
Cutting the librarians results in a savings of $400,000 to the board, that currently has a deficit of $2.4 million. Some in attendance questioned what the next services cut would be, with one asking if parent volunteers would be asked to fill in for academic and management level positions.
“If you were to hear that, the general population would shake their heads,” he said. “And yet the board feels it’s appropriate to do that with librarians. I won’t force you to say that you’ll replace them or have parent volunteers do the work of – you choose the euphemism that you’d like. But at the same time, somehow you’re saying that work is going to get done.
The librarians are not going to be there to do it, so who the heck is going to do it?” A group of parent volunteers who help out regularly at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Elementary School in Vaudreuil-Dorion has vowed to stop donating their time at the library if 15-year Librarian Karen Lamothe loses her job. “I understand the enrollment numbers are down,” said Lamothe, “but this is not the way to get more children into the school. Would I want to send my child to a Lester B. Pearson school without a librarian? No.”
“Without the brain, how can the body function?” asked parent Kerri Hobé who had continued to volunteer even after her children had graduated out of the school.
“We’re there because of Karen and what she does for the kids.”