Northwest school district lays off teachers, expects fewer positions this fall

The Coast Mountain School District expects to receive less money to recall laid-off teachers due to declining enrollment.

Due to dropping enrolment, the Coast Mountains School District is adjusting the number of classrooms and grade divisions, and has given layoff notices to 37 teachers.

Cameron MacKay, the district’s director of human resources, said most of those teachers will be recalled and found different positions by the end of June.

And teachers union president Cathy Lambright said that teachers are hired based on seniority and qualifications, and adjustments are often driven by students and the courses they take.

“If there is a huge need for more science teachers or home economics teachers, because there is a huge desire from students, and [the school district] doesn’t have those teachers, then they have to layoff the people they currently have, so that they can hire new teachers who have those skills,” Lambright said.

As enrolment declines, so does the amount of money from the Ministry of Education.

That’s because most of the school district’s annual budget is set by the number of students enrolled.

So  far indications are that the budget is being reduced by the dollar equivalent of six full-time teachers,  said MacKay.

“The number of teachers affected (by the decreased amount of money) depends on how many are part time. There are a lot of part time teachers… teachers often take two days  or take a block off during the day for preparation time,” he said.

Lambright said a conservative estimate is that six to nine teachers will have no job or will have to drop down from full-time to part-time when the new school year begins this fall.

However, she expects the final result will be more than that.

Of those six full-time equivalent positions lost, Kitimat is losing three and Terrace two.

Across the whole district, 18 teachers are retiring, which helped drop the number of teachers on layoff from 55 to 37, MacKay said.

The district is currently working to find positions to recall as many teachers as they can, and the district’s goal is to have all teachers knowing what they are doing by the end of June.

“We always want to have all our teachers know what they are teaching for the next year by the time they leave for the summer but it is rare that it happens due to [complications such as late retirements or late sick leaves],” MacKay said.

Teachers’ benefits and seniority are not affected if they are laid off through a notice and then recalled, MacKay said.

Lambright said that teachers learn the system quickly and she believes it is fair and gives teachers notice so that they can decide what they want to do.

But it does not come without stress.

“I just today met with two teachers, and they want to know where they are on the [recall] list, how close it is, what jobs are going to be out there, what is the likelihood of them going to be able to work… they don’t know where they will be next year,” Lambright said.

School district secretary treasurer Alanna Cameron said the district is estimating it will have 275 fewer students next year, so it is now adjusting to meet the equivalent dollar reduction.

“There is no reduction in service, it’s just that fewer teachers are required because there are fewer students… It’s the economy of scale. If you have 200 less students, your staffing needs are proportionally reduced,” Cameron said.

Declining enrolment is expected to continue for the next three years and then event out in 2019 with an estimated 3,850-3,950 students.

That’s compared to 4,289 this year, MacKay said.

He says an enrolment bubble (similar to the baby boom) has been going through the system, and the end of the blip is now at Grade 10, slowly graduating out of the system.