Local schools grapple with text shortage

By Connie Smart

High schools in the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are feeling the strain of the Harris government’s cuts to Grade 11 funding, say officials and staff from the board.

“High schools in this area are being affected pretty equally by these cuts, just as they are across the province,” says Centretown trustee Joan Spice. “There is just not enough money for texts.”

The lack of textbook money results from a decrease in funding for the “guinea pig” group of Grade 11 students who, two years ago, were the first group exposed to the new curriculum. When this group was in Grade 9, the government provided them with $30 million to buy texts for the new curriculum.

In Grade 10, the government provided them with another $30 million.

However, this year the government is providing only $15 million for the group, and is instead giving $360 million to cover general education costs.

Lisgar Collegiate principal Angela Spence points out the group’s size did not drastically decrease as it advanced from Grades 9 to 11, nor did its funding needs.

As a result of the cuts, she says some of her 1,100 students are sharing texts. She says the shortage is made worse because the school is unsemestered, making it impossible for classes to share texts as each class needs those texts from September to June.

In a semestered school, classes run from September to January, and then February to June.

Centretown trustee Joan Spice says priority for the government’s additional $360 million is being given to salaries, funding for which she says is $26 million less this year.

Immaculata High School, part of the Ottawa-Carleton Catholic School Board, has met its Grade 11 textbook demands, says Centretown trustee Kathy Ablett.

Tony Pearson, president of Ottawa-Carleton’s Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, says he feels the government rushed into the curriculum without taking into consideration the need for new textbooks.

The new curriculum was introduced in elementary schools in 1998 and in secondary schools in 1999.

It places a stronger emphasis on the subjects of mathamatics, science and languages, and in many cases requires a lot of new texts.

“There’s no doubt the curriculum needed to be changed, but not like this,” says Pearson. “The new curriculum is definitely harder and not having the right books makes things even more difficult.”

Pearson says where there is a shortage of books, teachers must become more creative in their teaching methods by photocopying, encouraging students to frequent libraries and pooling their resources.

In light of such methods, teachers will take the textbook situation into account when assessing students, says Spence.