CALEDONIA Grade 11 student Diamond Louie, seen here at neighbouring Skeena Middle School, is just one of many students who will be impacted by the results of the teacher recruitment race, which the Coast Mountains School District hopes will unearth enough teachers to meet the demand in classrooms come September. Jackie Lieuwen photo

Teacher recruitment race continues in northwestern B.C. school district

Adding to the challenge is a complicated teacher hiring system

THE COAST Mountains School District is continuing its race to recruit teachers for next fall, striving for speed as it competes with other B.C. districts to fill new positions.

Human resources director Cam MacKay returned from a teacher job fair in Ontario last month and says he met a number of teachers eager to move west. Some of those were doing quite a bit of ground work to get B.C. certified and approved.

Yet, while he was pleased with the interest, MacKay says it’s going to be a very competitive recruiting race, since dozens of other school districts are seeking teachers.

“You are kind of racing against other districts to hire these people,” said MacKay. “Generally all the districts will suddenly open up, and [teachers] will have a bit of a smörgåsbord to chose from.”

This ongoing recruitment race follows the Supreme Court decision late last year which forced the provincial government to restore the 2002 class size and composition limits, previously stripped from the contract with teachers.

Restoring that collective agreement means the province is dolling out an estimated $330 million for school districts across B.C. to hire more teachers, and another $30 million for associated administrative costs.

That breaks down to an estimated $2.73 million for this district, with schools in Terrace, Thornhill, Kitimat, Hazelton and Stewart.

School district secretary-treasurer Alanna Cameron says the money should hire the full time equivalent of just over 28 teaching positions.

“At this point, the effect of complying with our local 2002 [collective agreement] language would require us to hire approximately [28.32 FTE, full time equivalent] teachers,” she said last week.

The school district submitted a plan for approval at the end of April, and Cameron says the provincial education ministry will review and confirm it in the next few weeks.

But with the money in place, the ongoing challenge is to find the teachers needed to alleviate prior class size and composition issues.

Out of those 28 full-time teacher positions, a number were posted and filled earlier this year with money from a temporary provincial settlement.

Though job postings are constantly changing, as of early week there were the equivalent of 26 full time job positions posted on the school district website. That actually worked out to 39 positions, as many of them were broken into part time jobs.

Most of those positions will be filled by current teachers in the district who will be looking for positions in the fall, MacKay said.

Teachers have single-year contracts that expire every year. In the spring, teachers are then offered new or similar positions, and they have priority based on the number of years they’ve worked for the district.

The system, while unstable for teachers, also makes it difficult for recruiting incoming teachers, because they cannot be guaranteed positions until the existing teachers are placed.

“We have to go through our process, so it makes it difficult to hang on to people when we have to do certain things first,” MacKay acknowledged.

Current teachers can also chose to transfer or retire anytime until September, which makes it difficult to pin down exactly how many new teachers will be needed.

MacKay estimated they are recruiting for close to 15 or 16 positions.

“I think we’ve had 16 or 17 go out already, and there’s more to come,” he said about job postings.

They aim to hire a number of teachers from the group of teacher graduates from the University of Northern British Columbia, which includes 12 students from Terrace.

Besides that group, MacKay says the school district will need at least five, probably more, new teachers from elsewhere.

“I think we’re going to be pushing for a good five to eight people from outside of our district in actual full time positions,” said MacKay.

“Possibly more if we get more retirements. It could go up as high as 15, it just depends.”

A second challenge, one that is facing school districts across the province, is finding substitute teachers, or teachers teaching on call (TTOCs).

And while that challenge is very real here, MacKay says he’s talked with eight people who are actually interested in moving from outside the province to take on-call positions.

In Ontario those jobs can be full-time because of the demand, yet even after people know there will be fewer hours here, MacKay says many are still interested.

Three people from Ontario have already been hired as TTOCs, and are moving here. Another five are in ongoing discussions, but MacKay says he’d like to find quite a few more for the upcoming school year.

As recruitment continues, MacKay says he’s been happy with the number of teachers looking for work, yet the race is still on and the competition very real.

“I’m happy with what we’ve seen so far, but the unknown is that [teachers] do have choices out there. If we get to them first and offer them a job first, most likely they will jump here,” he said. “That’s the big thing is making sure that we can get to them earlier than other districts.”

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School district human rescources director Cameron MacKay. File photo

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