Southern Lehigh Libraries Feel Effects of Budget Cuts

Southern Lehigh has a reputation for being a well-funded, high-scoring school district, a reason why many parents choose to live in this district.

This is why it comes as a surprise to many that Southern Lehigh’s libraries have been running on low funding and reduced staffs.

In the current situation, most of the library’s funding has been severely reduced.  An anonymous source stated that the library was even denied the funds to purchase all required summer reading books for students.

Because the library does not have the money to keep the facilities up to date, our librarians have mainly relied on fundraisers and grants.

“We each cope as best we can. Families can donate books to the Libraries, we hold book fairs at Barnes & Noble or through Scholastic or we benefit from fundraising by the buildings’ PTAs and PTGs,” Intermediate School librarian Mrs. Heidi Schiavone said.  “Mrs. Robbins is very creative with applying for mini-grants to improve various aspects of technology at the middle school and high school, like Kindles and OverDrive, and we can occasionally request a special expenditure at the district level when the purchase benefits the entire district, as with OverDrive.”

Another major hindrance to our libraries is that retired librarians have never been rehired.  As many high school students have noticed, the library is often closed for large portions of the day.  This is because Mrs. Corry Robbins has had to divide her time between the high school and middle school libraries following the retirement of high school librarian Mrs. Marilyn Adams.

“We were assured that the current arrangement of Mrs. Robbins dividing her time between the middle school and the high school would be temporary,” Mrs. Schiavone said.  “That was three years ago, when Mrs. Adams and her secretary both retired. Now, there are other library secretaries on the verge of retirement, and we can’t be sure what to expect.”

The current funding struggles can be traced back to several sources from school funding cuts at the state level and the loss of funds to charter schools.

“There have been various pressures on administration to make do with less,” Mrs. Schiavone said. “Governor Corbett cut funding to schools, charter schools take a portion of the district’s budget for each student who chooses to try that form of education, and there are other significant expenses for pensions, salaries, benefits, building maintenance, etc., none of which are getting cheaper.”

That being said, there’s a strong argument that, out of departments to face cuts, libraries should be preserved.

In their article “Impact of School Libraries on Learning” for Robert Gordon University, scholars Dorothy Williams, Caroline Wavell, and Katie Morrison found that school libraries had a significant impact on higher test scores, successful learning outcomes (such as higher quality project work and increased knowledge and reading development), and a positive outlook on learning.

Further proving this, the Maryland Association of School Libraries (MASL) research found that in Pennsylvania and Colorado, test scores improved 15 percent in schools with well staffed libraries.  MASL’s studies also found that student achievement increases when the library’s media funding (to acquire new books and technology) is adequate and when libraries are open to students longer.

Knowing how valuable a strong library is to our school, there are several ways to improve Southern Lehigh’s library system for future Spartans.

“Ideally, each retiring library secretary should be replaced with a full-time person in the same capacity, and one should also be hired to fill the void created when the high school library secretary was not replaced three years ago,” Mrs. Schiavone said. “Additionally, a high school librarian should be hired to relieve Mrs. Robbins of having to cover two schools and attend to the needs of two staffs and 1500 students.”

Neither Mrs. Robbins nor the administration was available for comment.


After the May Spotlight had already gone to press, superintendent Dr. Leah Christman offered the following comment:  “We are never happy when anything in the district (or even our personal budgets) needs to be cut. Over the past several years the district has had to make some very difficult decisions to maintain all of our programs for students. We have not replaced multiple positions including some teachers, administrators and support staff, but have attempted to restructure or do things differently.  As some individuals have left the district, we have explored changes that would allow us to save funds while retaining all student programs. The decision to share librarians and to capitalize on our technology coaches by partnering with librarians, was intended to maximize our libraries as media centers.  Specific scheduling is decided upon with the building principals, librarians, and technology coaches. While this arrangement may not be ideal, it allowed us to maximize our staff and continue to provide library services.  At the same time, many library services are available online and high school students should have access to these through their laptops.  With advanced planning, students and teachers should be able to take advantage of needed services.”