By Kate Irwin
Job cuts are expected for Columbia Valley teachers in the next few months, but the full extent of the staff reductions will not be known until fall, the Rocky Mountain School District confirmed this week.
Paul Carriere, superintendent of schools for School District #6, indicated “slight staff reductions in Golden and Invermere” for the upcoming school year if enrolment figures do not increase by September.
Doug Murray, president of the Windermere Teachers’ Association, said he believes cuts will be more significant.
“There are a lot of reductions in teaching staff happening here,” he said. “They [School District #6] were trying to place all teachers who have continuing contracts but were unable to do so.”
Without guaranteed work for the 2012/13 school year for contracted staff, the future for those on temporary contracts and teachers on call (substitute teachers) is uncertain, he said.
“We’re basically going down to fewer librarians, fewer special education teachers; we lost a district resource person who looked after the district library and teacher training,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to come here if you’re an up-and-coming teacher.”
The school district budget, which includes funding for teaching positions, is based on enrolment figures, Mr. Carriere explained. The enrolment numbers, released each fall, have shown a decade-long decline across the district, which stretches from Golden to Kimberley.
Teaching job cuts locally are being predicted based on a lack of students currently signed up for the next school year.
“If the number of students we have decreases, so does the funding,” Mr. Carriere added. “However in the coming year, government is providing additional funding to Boards of Education under Bill 22. This is referred to in the legislation as the Learning Improvement Fund.”
The Learning Improvement Fund, which will see close to $400,000 of additional funding for School District #6, will result in more local employment for teachers and support staff, Mr. Carriere said.
Decisions on exactly how to make use of the funding have not yet been made, he added.
Across British Columbia $60 million will be poured into the education system through the Learning Improvement Fund, which will be allocated to school districts assessed as having the highest need.
The money is earmarked for hiring additional teachers and special education assistants, increasing teaching time and for professional development and training.
But the funding is a drop in the ocean for teachers who are exhausted with fighting the government over contracts, Mr. Murray said.
“It’s an insult,” he said. “It’s the government’s way of saying, ‘Look, we’re putting millions back with the learning fund’ … it sounds like a lot until you stretch the money across B.C. The LIF means a lot of time spent filling out forms for funding that should be there in the first place.”
There are 47 full-time and 29 part-time teachers across the Columbia Valley’s six schools. Mr. Murray believes support and/or teaching positions may be cut from up to four of the six schools, with teachers moving to different schools to fill gaps. Measures like split-grade classes are increasingly likely locally, he added.
“This is the worst year I’ve seen: we’ve never gone through a loss of jobs before,” Mr. Murray added. “A lot of people really love this area and what it has to offer, but at some time they have to think of themselves. Sometimes you can’t afford to be a temp or teacher on call.”
Mr. Carriere agreed that the job market is “tight” for newer teachers in the school district, but said jobs are still available locally. Measures like the introduction of full-day kindergarten across the district have slightly increased employment opportunities, he added.
“There are many applicants for few positions, so the job market continues to be quite tight for new teachers,” he said. “However, there are positions available that we are filling through the usual post-and-fill process.”
As the school year draws to a close, the province’s teachers held rallies across B.C., including in Invermere, on Wednesday, June 20th, to mark one year without a contract.
The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, which represents around 40,000 B.C. teachers, has been locked into a contract dispute with the province for 10 months now over working conditions. Teachers have also withdrawn from voluntary duties as part of the dispute.
On June 15th, a Labour Relations Board ruled that B.C. teachers are able to pull out of voluntary duties as part of their contract dispute but cannot skip parent-teacher meetings and other school meetings.