Henry Ward Beecher, a well-known minister and social reformer in the 1800s, declared that, “A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life.” While some may choose to debate this statement, history does confirm the importance of public libraries. The financial support a community provides its public library system probably speaks even louder than words when it comes to describing the level of importance its citizens and public servants place on literacy and education, two more things most Americans consider to be “necessities of life.”
In the 1940s, when Effingham County was a sleepy little bedroom community, the schools and county commissioners recognized the importance of providing citizens with access to a public library and the educational opportunities it afforded people of all ages. In 1945, Effingham joined the regional library system that included Chatham and Liberty counties, and the school board began making a financial contribution in order to receive services. At that time, public libraries were supervised by the Georgia Department of Education and services in Effingham County were provided through the use of bookmobiles that would make routine stops in Springfield and at the schools.
Around the time the first library building was established in Springfield, Effingham County officials agreed that the county commissioners’ budget would include support for the Extension Service and 4-H program and the BOE would support the local library. Records indicate that in 1979, the school board was contributing $22,426.16 for library operations and the amount it budgeted continued to grow steadily until 1989. In 1990, the current Rincon library was opened and the board of education’s funding jumped to $154,453 and then to $176,000 in 1995 when the new Springfield branch opened. Both of these libraries were built with 90 percent of the cost funded by the state. The BOE paid about 10 percent of the construction cost and has continued to fund a major part of the operation and maintenance costs. The largest amount budgeted yearly was $400,000 from 2002 to 2009. This past fiscal year, the board of education’s contribution to the public libraries was $365,000.
As stated earlier, the Effingham County Board of Education has a long history of supporting the public library system, and based on the amount of funding that the school board has allocated for local libraries since joining the library system in the 1940s, it is obvious that they believed then and today that libraries are a necessity. In fact, the board of education is now supporting 15 full-service public libraries counting the 13 libraries in its K-12 schools which feature updated collections of books, resource materials, audio/visual equipment and computers that are accessible to students whenever the schools are open. For the 2009-2010 school year, the BOE budgeted $2,513,744 to operate and maintain these 13 school media centers. This amount, plus the $365,000 for the public libraries, accounted for almost $3 million of the BOE budget for fiscal year 2010.
If this were a movie, the scene would now change from the idyllic past described above to the chaotic present of today. With terms like economic downtown, recession and budget cuts — county commissioners, school systems, libraries, families and individuals across the country are being forced to make tough decisions about how to operate with less money. Everyone is touched in some way due to the domino effect created by an economic crisis.
Because Effingham County’s board of education receives its largest amount of funding from the state government, the school system is one of the first in the line of dominos to be toppled. In addition to serious cuts made during the past five or six years, the state has significantly cut Effingham County’s funding for the 2010-2011 school year. These reductions can be seen on the following chart:
Austerity and other reductions
Total reduction in QBE formula $31,036,158
In response, the BOE, like most public service agencies, has had to make some tough decisions about how to trim its own budget and still fulfill its mission. Keeping in mind that educating students is core to its mission, school officials and school board members are charged with making cuts in the areas that will have the least affect on student achievement in the classroom.
One of the interesting facts that has surfaced during the BOE’s budget analysis is the huge discrepancy, as seen below, concerning the amount of funding the different school system’s in the First District’s Regional Education Service Agency (1st District RESA) provided to local libraries in FY2010. (It is important to keep in mind that these figures represent local tax dollars, levied and collected for the support of the public school system.)
System Library Funding
McIntosh $15,000 (local) $944 (regional)
Tattnall $3,600 (Reidsville) $3,600 (Glennville)
Unless the library funding system changes, Effingham County tax payers will continue to support the operation of the county’s two public libraries in one way or another. Faced with huge budget cuts from the state, the board of education has no choice but to take a serious look at this issue and believes that all entities need to be open to looking at ways to improve the public library system in Effingham County.
As far as next year is concerned, the school board has approved a tentative budget, with no millage rate increase, that reduces public library funding from $365,000 ($5,000 was for insurance) to $180,000 — still a significant contribution, especially when compared to what other school systems in the 1st District are funding. The tentative budget also proposes cutting funding for supplies in half for the system’s own school media centers. Of course, these are not the only areas that have been cut. The domino effect, which started at the state level, continues to ripple through such areas as professional development, athletics, Pre-k operations, central administration and classroom staffing. In addition, all certified and most non-certified employees will receive a five-day reduction in pay. And yes, these cuts will create their own local domino effect, but the school system’s mission will remain intact: To provide rigorous and relevant instruction in a safe environment to enable all students to obtain a high school diploma as a foundation for post secondary success.
And that’s a happy ending we all want to see.
Provided by the Effingham County Board of Education