With a $50,000,000 fund now in place to hire up to 1,100 teachers in BC this year, School District 85 (SD85) is feeling optimistic about the recent interim settlement to the long-running dispute over staffing levels.
The BCTF and the Province “have reached an interim agreement on the first stage of having to implement the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision,” said SD85 Secretary-Treasurer John Martin, adding that the North Island school district “has been allocated $176,703 as an interim relief. I would imagine that ultimately there could be even more money coming, but as an interim measure, we’re allowed to hire teachers as soon as possible, based on that figure.”
SD85 met with VINTA on Thursday, Jan. 12 to help identify some priorities for how to spend the $176,703.
“We have to identify where we see priorities in terms of class size, composition, teacher-student ratios, that kind of thing,” said Martin. “Based on that number, if you look at the average teacher salary and benefits, we have an average cost of probably $100,000 per teacher – so $176,703 would give you 1.7 teachers at the average level.”
“Shawn Gough (VINTA local president) has pointed out that our average teacher is quite experienced and higher on the pay grade. A new teacher hired would be significantly lower on the pay grade. Starting wages could be $20,000 or $30,000 lower, which does give us some room for additional teachers. Rather than 1.7, it could be 2.5 teachers hired.”
Martin stressed that this would mean “around five teachers hired out of this interim relief money, and that’s obviously based on the preliminary negotiations that have happened provincially. There will be further negotiations, and my hope is that we will actually be looking at more teachers than that in the long term.”
Martin isn’t quite sure if the number of teachers hired will be as high as 17, but “if we do get that many, that would be great. It’s always good to be optimistic and hopeful, but my estimate would be somewhat lower.”
When asked what kind of effect the Supreme Court’s decision will have on SD85, Martin replied that it “will have a positive effect, just in terms of class size, class composition, and non enrolling ratios. The one thing that people should keep in mind is that this school district has always made class size and support for students its main priority.”
The court’s decision may not have “as dramatic an impact here as it will in some other districts,” Martin said. “We’ve done a lot of things to make sure class size and support for students is the priority, not just for teachers but also education assistants.”
Martin first started working for SD85 back in 1988, when the district had well over 3,000 students.
“We’ve dropped down as low as 1,200 students,” said Martin, who added that the numbers are starting to rise again, “but we’re still only around 1,300-1,400.”
When asked about the causation behind the lack of enrolment, Martin confirmed that the mine closing down in 1995 was one of the major reasons.
“In that one or two year period, we probably lost 30 per cent of our enrolment,” he said, adding that Neucel’s recent curtailment has also “had an affect, absolutely. There have been some big hits.”
Martin noted that despite Neucel’s curtailment issues, Port Alice’s Sea View Elementary School enrolment numbers have been surprisingly stable and the school is not in any risk of closure.
When asked if he was surprised by the Supreme Court’s decision, Martin said “not at all. Unlike some people, I believed that was the way it was going to unfold.”
He also pointed out that “to me, its not a matter of politics, it’s a matter of working with whatever government we get. As a bureaucracy, we strive to be nonpartisan and focus on what is best for the students.”