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Funding for teacher hires insufficient, union says

'Lowball' figures could disrupt fall planning

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Nominal funding being doled out to school districts as a result of the BC Supreme Court decision to restore teacher contracts is not sufficient, according to the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF), and schools may end up with less support services in place for students next year than they had in 2016.

In the Sea to Sky, the district has about $2.3 million to work with in hiring new teachers.

"They say (it's) to restore the contract that the Supreme Court ruled on in the fall, and it's too low a number," said Sea to Sky Teachers Association President Steve Lloyd.

"So what in every district is happening is everyone is running around trying to make it work and it doesn't work, and it has specific effects in every district."

School districts have been instructed to expand the definition of non-enrolling teachers (counselors, librarians, special education resource teachers, etc.) to include itinerant teachers as well (district psychologists, speech and language pathologists, etc.), essentially watering down the amount of support staff the district can hire for the new school year, Lloyd said.

"We have language to show that, neither before our contract was stripped in 2001 or now, based on the Memorandum of Agreement, is it appropriate to include those teachers in those numbers," he said, adding that funding for itinerant teachers does need to expand as well, but that's an issue that should be dealt with separately.

The BCTF's concern is that the confusion around support staff hiring could lead to disruption at the start of next school year.

"What we're dealing with is planning for the fall in a way that's going to have to be redone... we're concerned that if we don't address these issues now, if the public isn't aware of them, doesn't let the MLA know that this needs to change and that the funding needs to be more accurate, more adequate, that we're going to come back in the fall and have to re-do all the time tables of all the kids in our schools," Lloyd said.

The Sea to Sky School District (SD48) recently filled 61 postings, with more jobs to be posted before the start of the next school year.

It's too early to tell at this point how much funding will be needed to fully restore the contract, said SD48 superintendent Lisa McCullough.

"Until we actually get the children in the schools and we actually see the ramifications of the language in terms of numbers of teachers, we won't be sure, but we feel fairly confident that the notional funding will need to increase to support the implications of the restored language," McCullough said.

There are also pressures from increasing enrolment, both in terms of hiring new teachers and finding space for students. The district is looking at one or two portable classrooms for Garibaldi Highlands Elementary in Squamish, and both Myrtle Philip Community School and Whistler Secondary are "right on the cusp," as well, McCullough said.

While the district was able to fill its 61 recent positions, province-wide competition and housing shortages in the corridor could prove challenging on the hiring front moving forward.

"I'm very hopeful we're going to find the right people and we're going to work really hard to do that, and I'm hoping the success we're experiencing right now will continue," McCullough said.

A potential change in government is encouraging to teachers, but time is of the essence, Lloyd said.

"Both parties have made very clear statements about their intent to restore funding to public education. That's exciting for us, we're thrilled to hear it, but we also need the public to know that the current planning that's going on for next year actually reduces services to children," he said, adding that the school districts aren't to blame.

"They're using the numbers that they've been given. I think they're doing a pretty good job of trying to make those numbers work as best they can, but they've been lowballed. We've all been lowballed, and that's our last gift from Christy Clark."

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