Blank report cards were mailed to Coast Mountains students’ homes last week, the latest event in a protracted labour dispute between the provincial government and B.C.’s unionized public school teachers.
When teachers refused to fill out the cards, part of their ongoing job action of withdrawing from some duties, the province ordered the school boards to sent them out anyway, even if they were blank.
And that’s what principals and vice-principals did, at a cost in this district of approximately $4,000 in postage and stationary alone.
The president of the Terrace and District Teachers’ Union, Karen Andrews, said sending blank report cards home to parents was a waste of time and money.
“We believe that money would be better spend on resources to support education in our classrooms,” Andrews said.
Some teachers sent out their own versions of report cards and offered to meet with any and all parents to discuss anything of importance involving their children.
Local bargaining between the Terrace and District Teachers’ Union (TDTU) and the Coast Mountains School District has been halted until there’s a ruling on exactly what they’ll negotiate.
Talks on some issues began but then stopped in September, said Deb Thames, bargaining chair for the teachers’ union.
School district human resources director Balwinder Rai said it made sense to wait for a provincial ruling.
These are talks apart from wages and benefits, negotiations for which are being handled by the provincial government and the BC Teachers’ Federation. Class size and composition negotiations are also being handled by those senior bodies.
“We had no choice but to say until that’s been decided at a provincial level, we cannot determine what it is we would be talking about,” Rai said.
But Thames said the union is disappointed with the district decision to halt talks, explaining there are certain items that can be settled.
“For the things that we are almost 100 per cent sure are going to stay local items, or things we have already started talking about, we would like to see those kinds of negotiations continue,” Thames said.
Teacher access to schools after hours and policies addressing discrimination, anti-racism and harassment can be taken care of locally.
Class size and composition
Coast Mountains school district has released an annual report on classroom sizes and the number of special needs students in each classroom.
This report is in compliance with legislation, which states there should be no more than 30 students in a class, and no more than three students with special needs in a classroom.
Director of instruction for the district, Brent Speidel, said this year’s averages are pretty similar to last year’s, but it is always a bit of a balancing act to try and meet requirements.
He explains as students continue to arrive throughout September, the district has to be very careful what staffing goes where, not only to meet a district average but to adhere to individual class-size requirements.
“If you staff so you’re way under the [student] average, then you’re way overstaffed and it’s not cost effective,” he explained. “You try and make the decision that works best for you educationally and makes classes work.”
The report states there are seven classes with too many special needs students at Thornhill Elementary, with the highest number in a classroom reaching eight.
Uplands Elementary has six classes over the limit, with the highest number of special needs students in a class being nine. Suwilaawks Community school has four classes over the limit, with the highest number of special needs students reaching 11 in one class.
Cassie Hall Elementary school also has four classes over the limit, with seven as its highest number of special needs students in one class.
For secondary schools, Caledonia Senior secondary has 34 classes with more than three special needs students, Thornhill Junior Secondary school has 24 and Skeena Junior tops the list with 54 classes that are over the limit of three per class.
Speidel said the number of identified special needs students at the secondary level for the district is up from last year.
He explains that it is harder to control the number of identified students in a class in secondary classes because students choose their own electives.
“The special needs population that we have in the district is a challenge for us,” Speidel said. “Our percentage is higher than many other districts.”
He explains that three special needs students per class is the rule, but if there are more, then the teacher is consulted and depending on the individual situation, a number of supports are available. These can include student support workers, First Nations support workers or even technology, such as a lap top, to help a student with an individualized education plan.
However, class size averages across the district are meeting legislative requirements. The average kindergarten class in the district is 18.6 students, which is under the 19-student requirement.
Grades 1-3 average 20.9 students, which is just under the 21 student requirement. Grades 4-7 are averaged at 24.78, well below the provincial requirement of 28 students per class and the senior classes are averaging out at 24.83, again well below the provincial requirement of 30.
In Terrace and Thornhill, there are five classes at Caledonia Senior Secondary, and one class at Skeena Secondary school, that have more than the limit of 30 students.
The recall process for laid-off teachers in Terrace was completed in October, and despite a growth in enrolment, there was a reduction of the equivalency of 12 fewer teaching positions.
It’s called an equivalency because in some cases it is merely a reduction in hours, bringing a position from full time to part time.
This is a result of playing catch-up from previous years of overspending, said director of human resources for the Coast Mountains school district Balwinder Rai.
This year there is a total of 316 full-time equivalent teaching positions at work in the district, a drop from last year’s 328.
For student enrolment, there are 4,974 full-time equivalent students, which is almost identical to last year’s 4,937, and includes part-time students on a part-time funding basis.
According to Rai, all of the teachers were re-hired as of the start of October, although he notes this process will remain ever-changing as situations come up throughout the school year.
There was concern earlier this year from the Terrace and District Teachers’ Union president Karen Andrews about the speed with which teachers were re-hired this year.
There were some situations across the district where teachers started classes off this year without contracts, instead teaching as substitutes, or ‘teachers on call’, while they waited for the posting to be filled, be it by them or another teacher with more seniority.
“Normally the teachers have their postings by the end of August,” Andrews said, adding that to her knowledge there has never been this many teachers on call (substitutes) starting the school year in classes before.
But Rai explains there is a process that must be followed when it comes to offering teachers their contracts.
He explains that when placing a teacher on call in a classroom, they try to make the best guess on where that teacher will actually end up, to avoid a swap for students and teachers.
“It’s not our intent to have those disruptions,” he said, of changing teachers a month into the school year.
“This was a year of more than normal layoffs, less than normal postings and we started the process late,”
Rai said, adding part of the delay is due to the budget process.
“So combine all of those, and you’ve got a delay to start with,” Rai said, noting the current strike situation with teachers province-wide also hindered the process of recalling teachers.