Minimal book budget creates shift toward PDF usage

Tattered books in the English building’s book room show the consequences of a neglected book budget. 

In recent years, teachers have turned to digital textbooks instead of paper copies, a phenomenon often blamed on the surging pandemic. However, it may also be a consequence of the lack of organized funding for books in the Novato Unified School District (NUSD). 

Ever since its origination in 1985, the California State Lottery has been required to allocate a minimum 68% of its money (not alloted for cash prizes) into public education reserves. The money only accounts for about one percent of school funding statewide, but San Marin has a few other income sources for buying books, through donations, grants, School Fuel, and more. 

The process for buying books is different based on what money is used. However, nearly every book order is made through administration, specifically, by Office Manager Lisa Walera. Books that are new to the system have to go through other steps in order to be approved for purchase. 

“If a teacher wants to use a new book, say they decide that they want to read something that’s questionable,” Walera said. “The process is they would take it to Mr. Sims, he would look at it, then it goes to the board for approval to have students read it.” 

In the case of Independent Reading Books (IRB), English teachers get some of them independently, since the books are constantly varying and the amount is relatively small. 

“A lot of teachers use Donors Choose, which is a website where we can get donations to fund our books.” English Department Head Mackenzie Bedford said. “It’s set up by the teachers and then they ask friends, family, community members to help donate for books, so we could update our books, have more choices, more options instead of reading PDF’s, ideally.” 

Many of the school’s paper textbooks are out of date, in their place teachers use various outside sources. Such as photocopies, articles, and excerpts from the internet. 

“We haven’t adopted any new books in science since 2008 or so.” Biotech teacher Michelle Lefevre-Bernt said. “They are outdated, but we don’t use books as the only sources of information.” 

Teaching multiple books per semester has led to large amounts being purchased, making PDFs a more suitable option for the budget. Some books have been out long enough to be classified under the public domain, making them free digitally. PDF’s pose other advantages as well. 

“We’re trying to move more towards digital work as opposed to hard copies,” Principal Mark Sims said. “The thing that we always have to look at is that if everybody has a chromebook, we should really be moving more towards PDFs and electronic versions of everything we have.” 

However, research supports a higher level of reading comprehension when using paper as opposed to screens. 

The Journal of Research in Reading published the findings of 33 research studies which found, “Readers had better calibrated (more accurate) judgement of their performance from paper compared to screens.” 

Many students struggle without access to physical copies of the texts. Especially for students with disabilities or those with a concussion, staring at a PDF creates issues. 

“I really like to read hard copy books instead of PDF’s, especially since I’ve recently sustained a concussion,” sophomore Kelly D’Ambrosia said. “PDF’s cause too much brain stimulation, so it’s just not good for me to be reading on a screen.” 

An organized and permanent book budget would allow for more choice between digital and paper copies of in class texts. Students tend to prefer physical copies, and having consistent access to them would likely encourage higher levels of comprehension in class. 

“I prefer hard books because I think we’re on our screens so much, especially after online learning.” Bedford said. “When I’ve asked, almost all my students do prefer having a book to physically read.” 

Although the evidence for benefits of paper copies is there, the way the budget is currently organized, it does not allow for all the needed books to be purchased. 

Any teacher might teach 5, 6, 7, 8 novels in a semester, including independent reading books.” English Department Head Adam Williams said, “The money’s not there, to get as many books as we want.” 

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