‘We’re still working out the kinks’: Teacher shortage top concern 1 year after Supreme Court decision

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BCTF and Ministry of Education take stock after high court restored class size and composition bargaining

The Ministry of Education says there are ongoing challenges recruiting specialist educators and with the depletion of teacher on-call lists.

It’s been one year since the B.C. Teachers’ Federation won a landmark decision in the Supreme Court of Canada that returned its right to bargain class size and composition. 

  • BCTF wins Supreme Court battle over class size and composition

Since then, school districts have hired nearly 3,500 teachers, the largest hiring blitz of teachers in B.C.’s history, according to the Ministry of Education. 

But despite the new resources, they’re having trouble staffing on-call and special education teachers, and, in Surrey and Vancouver, there are ongoing overcrowding issues. 

Irene Lanzinger

BCTF lawyers, staff, former staff and union leaders celebrate in Ottawa after Supreme Court of Canada ruling in November 2017. (Irene Lanzinger/Twitter)

Taking stock of what has transpired since the decision, BCTF President Glen Hansman has mixed feelings, saying he’s happy with the new teachers hired but frustrated that there isn’t yet enough staff to fulfill students’ needs. 

“We’re still working out the kinks. It’s a bit frustrating that we have a few problems in school districts like Vancouver and Surrey that should have been ironed out awhile ago, but we’re really proud of our accomplishments,” said Hansman.

On-call and special education teacher shortages

The Ministry of Education says there are ongoing challenges recruiting specialist educators and with the depletion of teacher on-call lists. 

Hansman says the staffing shortfalls are a result of most of the on-call teachers from last year being hired to contracts this year.

“It is not good enough to be this far into the school year and not have all these special education jobs in place and to continue to have a shortage of teachers teaching on call, causing further disruptions to ESL and special ed programming,” said Hansman.

  • Timeline: Nearly 15 years of court battles between province and BCTF

Hansman says the BCTF wants to see school districts treating the understaffing situation with greater urgency and wants a more robust recruitment strategy. 

“It’s hard to attract enough people to come here, let alone stay here,” said Hansman, who points to affordability issues in the region as a recruitment challenge.

The ministry says it has appointed a task force to address immediate needs of teacher recruitment and retention in B.C. school districts.  

It says the task force will submit recommendations for short term actions before the end of the year. 

New funding and overcrowding

Released in September, the province’s 2017 budget update increased the Ministry of Education’s operating budget for the year by $177 million and committed $681 million to the education system over the next three years. 

But, Hansman says he’s looking forward to the province’s February budget for more money for operational costs and capital projects, so that schools can staff additional classrooms, and new schools can be built at in-demand districts like Surrey or neighbourhoods like Coal Harbour and the Olympic Village.

  • Surrey public schools get $217M to curtail chronic overcrowding

The ministry says it’s determined to get a lot more done in Surrey. 

“We’ve met with the local municipal government, as well as the school district, to see how we can work to speed things up. As of now, funding has been approved to build four new schools in the district, as well as three additions,” it said in a statement.

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