Districts race to beat the bell with schools short-staffed across B.C.

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

High cost of living makes hiring hard: BCTF

The Vancouver Sun

Help wanted: With two weeks left before the school year starts, hundreds of teaching positions are still vacant in more than 30 school districts across B.C.

About 171 full-time jobs still need to be filled by September in Vancouver, Surrey, Abbotsford, Osoyoos, Fort St. John, Prince George and other districts, according to Make a Future, the recruitment arm of the B.C. Public School Employers Association. The vacancies are highest in the north, where 48 positions are yet to be filled, followed by Metro Vancouver with 36.

Glen Hansman, president of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, said the hiring crunch is a result of the B.C. Supreme Court decision last fall that required districts to hire an additional 3,000 teachers to fulfil class-size and composition requirements.

“Because of all the new jobs created by the Supreme Court decision, the supply of teachers is less than what is needed by the job postings out there,” Hansman said.

Across the province, there are more than 400 job openings for teachers, including part-time and on-call positions. Districts are looking for teachers who can teach a gamut of classes, ranging from math and science to fine arts, computers, French immersion and special education.

On Tuesday, the Vancouver school board posted 280 part-time and full-time positions, which include a mix of classroom teachers, counsellors and resource positions. That’s roughly three times the normal amount of postings for this time of year, a VSB spokesman said.

Surrey, home to B.C.’s largest school district, had just concluded its last posting for 90 jobs, which closed Monday.

“We don’t anticipate problems in having those positions filled,” spokesman Doug Strachan said.

The district needed to hire 138 teachers because of the court decision, and another 30 to account for growth, he added. “We’ve hired a great deal off our (teachers-oncall) list. … We had to dip into it more than we had in previous years.”

The district, which is expecting around 800 to 1,000 students in the fall, also had to find 168 classrooms to house the new teachers. It had brought in 50 portables for the school year, and converted other spaces such as computer labs into classrooms.

Burnaby’s district hired teachers in the spring in response to the ruling, but will hire more with new postings expected to go up Thursday. That positions are unfilled this time of year is par for the course, said Richard Per, assistant superintendent of human resources.

“This is a process for us, but we’re in very good shape,” he said. “There’s always some surprises that happen in the summer with people leaving or additional retirement, which require postings to go up in August.”

Burnaby also dipped into its teachers-on-call list. Its current hiring will focus partly on replenishing that list, which needs to be at about 280 for schools not to face staffing shortages during the school year, Per said.

Hansman said it’s crucial for schools to have a healthy list of oncall teachers. When Surrey had as many as 120 unfilled vacancies on its on-call list last year, “that was massively disruptive for specialeducation programs because the resource teacher or special-ed teacher would get reassigned that day,” he said. “It’s not just bad for students, but demoralizing for staff. (For principals), it’s a nightmare for them to have to rejig the school staffing on a day-to-day basis.”

Hansman said the postelection uncertainty and the government’s “heel dragging” in May and June, which resulted in political limbo, didn’t help the pace of recruitment. The district and the BCTF conducted recruitment drives outside of B.C., but it’s unclear whether their efforts have resulted in an increased number of applications or hires.

“It’s a tough slog because the affordability issues in B.C. are known across the country,” he said, citing the high costs of rental accommodations and real estate across Metro.

“Also the fact that starting salaries are more or less the worst in the country — when you’re paying off student loans, considering moving expenses to start a new life in the province, it’s a hard sale.”

The BCTF said it wants to renew discussion of recruitment and retention initiatives with the Ministry of Education. Initiatives include bumping up starting wages for teachers, assisting with moving expenses, more opportunities to upgrade qualifications and a student-loan forgiveness program for teachers who commit to staying in a district for a number of years.

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