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Delta school district on track to fill teaching positions, but educators still concerned

Delta Teachers’ Association: not much evidence the district is fully anticipating the need for staff
Langley Times file photo

The Delta school district says it’s on track to fill the new staff levels determined by an agreement reached with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation before the May election, but Delta teachers are still concerned about the upcoming school year.

“We’re not seeing as much as evidence as we might have hoped that the Delta district is really anticipating the depth of the need for teachers,” Paul Steer, president of the Delta Teachers’ Association, said.

“I would say teachers at the current time are not terribly confident that the Delta school district is going to be in a position to adequately respond to the need that is already there.”

The B.C. Liberal government signed a deal in March providing $330 million to fund 2,600 new teacher positions, to comply with a November 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that ended a 15-year court battle over contract language governing class size and special needs support ratios.

Under the School Act, B.C.’s 60 school districts are responsible for all recruitment and hiring.

According to Delta school board chair Laura Dixon, the district is as caught up as it can be with the hiring process for September.

“We’ve got all the staffing we need for doors to open in September, we’re good to go,” she said. But, “in September if we find out the actual numbers have shifted — kids have moved in, moved away — then of course we’ll adjust accordingly.”

To comply with the court ruling, the district went through two hiring phases: the first in the beginning of 2017, and the second at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

A joint committee between the Delta School District and the Delta Teachers’ Association decided in January that Delta would have to hire between 20 and 30 new teaching positions to fulfill the requirements of the restored contract language.

Related: Up to 30 new teachers coming to Delta schools

Steer’s concern about “evidence” that the school district is prepared for the restored contract language relates to the hiring of teachers when compared to other districts.

As of Aug. 24, the Delta School District was hiring seven part-time positions, 10 full-time positions and five contract positions across the district.

These included teachers for 46 different classes, as well as educational assistants, autism consultants, Delta autistic program staff and Grad Quest staff.

According to Dixon, Delta had fewer positions because the class sizes were already close to those outlined by the restored contract language.

“Very few classes in Delta were much over the restored collective language agreement anyway,” she said.

“Perhaps getting back to restoring that for us has probably been more focused on the area of the composition piece.”

Generally, the school district sees a number of unfilled positions at the start of the school year, particularly in specialized roles and part-time positions, Jen Hill, the school district’s communications and marketing manager, said over email.

If they aren’t filled by the beginning of the school year, they will be staffed by Teachers Teaching on Call (TTOCs), which is typical.

In the spring, Delta retained a number of student teachers after their practicum placements. Hill said in an email that the district had also seen a number of teaching staff move to Delta from other districts.

The B.C. education ministry issued a statement saying progress is being made to hire teachers to meet the agreement reached between the former government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“We’ve been advised that most school districts are successfully hiring the teachers they need to be in compliance with the [agreement] with the BCTF – and also to meet local enrolment growth,” the ministry said. “However, there are some recruitment and retention challenges, especially for specialist positions and replenishing teacher-on-call lists.”

According to Steer, the Delta school district has also seen teachers leave for other districts.

The agreement includes alternatives when a district can’t meet the restored teacher contract provisions that were removed by legislation in 2002.

In Delta, class sizes can be exceeded when a teacher made a request for band, choir, or drama classes; the school staff agreed to exceed limits for educationally sound reasons; or if teachers took additional preparation time, extra teaching support or other forms of assistance, so long as it was approved by them and their union local.

Everyone in the school district, teachers and school board members alike, will have to wait until September to see if the district is prepared to meet the needs of the restored contract language.

“What we want to see are classes that are ideally composed of students, where teachers are able to do absolutely their best work,” Steer said.

“But, we’re also wanting to see evidence that that is actually going to take place.”

-with files from Tom Fletcher