School District No. 91 (Nechako Lakes) anticipates that additional hiring across the province will put a further strain on attracting teachers to the region.
The province and B.C. Teachers Federation have negotiated an interim settlement to their long-running dispute over staffing levels – a $50 million fund to hire up to 1100 teachers for the current school year.
“As a rural and remote school district, hiring qualified staff has been difficult for many years,” explained Manu Madhok, assistant superintended for School District No. 91. “Both the [school] district and the Burns Lake and Nechako Teacher’s Union (BLNTU) welcome the additional money to hire more teachers to work in our schools and classrooms, but both sides anticipate challenges recruiting teachers to fill these new positions.”
“The BLNTU and school district have a strong working relationship and we will continue to look at these challenges together,” he added.
With the recent interim settlement, School District 91 anticipates funding to recruit seven to eight teachers.
“The BLNTU presidents and [school] district staff will meet to discuss where the money should be spent,” said Madhok. “We expect to have postings for new teachers out by the end of the month.”
Education minister Mike Bernier announced the new fund earlier this month, stressing that there will be additional ongoing funding in the B.C. Liberal government’s February budget to finance a full agreement.
The announcement is a step towards the end of a lengthy legal battle between the government and the union that began in 2002, when then-education minister Christy Clark passed legislation removing 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.
Bernier said negotiations may continue for some time, but the province didn’t want to wait.
“If it is quite a few more months, that would be an opportunity lost, and we didn’t want to do that,” Bernier said.
The actual number of teachers hired will be determined by school districts and their local unions. 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.
B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Glen Hansman said the interim agreement means more teachers “in a matter of weeks,” but the union and the government will resume negotiations next week to restore the 2002 contract language upheld by the courts.
“It’s going to take a significantly higher investment than $50 million to undo the damage this government has done to a generation of students,” Hansman said. “B.C. teachers will be looking closely at the Feb. 21 provincial budget to make sure that funding is provided to implement the full scope of the restored language.”
NDP education critic Rob Fleming said the agreement represents a “down payment on restoring 15 years of cuts” to B.C. public schools, after the B.C. Liberal government spent millions on lawyers to defend their actions and was finally forced to restore funding.
“We have something like 15,000 classrooms in British Columbia right now that are out of compliance, even with the government’s own guidelines, so they’re already behind in the absence of hard targets,” Fleming said.
– With files from Tom Fletcher