The Coast Mountains School District is receiving $500,000 to hire new teachers to help in classrooms for the remainder of this school year, but finding qualified teachers is going to be a challenge.
The B.C. government announced yesterday it was providing $50 million to school districts across the province as part of an interim settlement with the B.C. Teachers Federation.
It means between 1,000 to 1,100 teachers will be hired as soon as possible to help with issues of class size and composition.
Coast Mountains secretary-treasurer Alanna Cameron said the news is very positive and could pay for approximately ten full-time teachers for the last half of this school year.
“Normally $500,000 would pay for approximately five full-time teachers for a full year,” she said, “but being that there’s only half a year left, then we can get ten full-time teachers for half a year.
But the challenge facing the school district will be finding qualified teachers.
“At this time of the year it’s very, very difficult to hire,” Cameron said, adding that it will be even more difficult as every other school district will also be looking for teachers.
“Everyone is going to be looking for teachers all at the same time,” she pointed out.
“There’s going to be all kinds of teaching positions open, so whether we’ll be able to find those qualified teachers or not, I don’t know,” she said.
“We’re going to do the best we can, and try work very quickly to get postings out, but it’s going to take some time and discussion to figure out where our biggest needs are.”
Looking at the needs, the other challenge is figuring out how to boost staffing in a way that won’t disturb the current structure in classrooms.
“If we were planning for next September it would be much easier, we could reorganize and restructure our classes,” Cameron said. “But when it’s mid-year, you don’t want to take a class of Grade 4 students and suddenly separate them into two – that’s not good for kids.”
Cameron said the school district and the Terrace and District Teachers Union are meeting this week to discuss and decide how to proceed.
Union president Mike Wen said he was pleased about the agreement and provisions for more teachers.
As for the issues of class size and composition, Wen said those challenges are facing all the schools in the district.
He said part of the decision making process will be nailing down the needs in all the schools.
“It’s a matter of getting specific information from schools about who is in the classes and how many kids and so on,” he said.
Wen also acknowledged that there would be challenges finding the teachers, as the district already struggles with recruiting people from out of town.
“We recognize that it is a challenge to hire people to come to this district and there will be challenges finding teachers to go into classrooms right away,” Wen said.
“But we are also committed to working with the district to find solutions to these problems.”
Last fall statistics indicated that average class size in this school district was between 17 to 24 students, but that is on average, and some classes in places like Terrace had as many as 27 students.
But composition is the real challenge in this district, where more than half of the classrooms (54 per cent) had three or more students with an IEP (Individual Education Plan) or disability.
That was 14 per cent higher than the provincial average of 40.5 per cent.
The announcement is a step towards the end of a lengthy legal battle between the government and the union that first began in 2002, when then-education minister Christy Clark removed class size and special needs support staffing ratios from the union contract.
The dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled in the teachers’ favour in November 2016.
The new positions will include classroom teachers, special education teachers, speech language pathologists, behaviour intervention specialists, school psychologists, aboriginal support teachers, counsellors including for mental health, English as a second language teachers, and teacher librarians.