Rocky Mountain School District 6 (SD6) will see $396,603 of the new provincial Learning Improvement Fund (LIF) in the 2012-2013 school year. The fund, which provides $165 million over three years to help school districts and teachers province-wide address classroom composition issues, is part of Bill 22, the Education Improvement Act that was passed in March
“[The LIF funding] will all be applied to additional staffing to help address challenging class composition situations,” SD6 superintendent Paul Carriere wrote in an email. “A good percentage of the funds will be additional hours for special education assistants, and there will be some new (special education assistant) positions created as well. There are also increases to teaching time; some time will be added to existing part-time staff, and some part-time positions created.”
In the face of declining enrolment across the province (over 6,000 fewer students provincewide as compared to September 2011), Carriere said the declining trend is also the case in the Windermere zone of SD6. While SD6 does not release enrolment numbers for the current year until late September, Carriere did say that David Thompson Secondary School was particularly impacted by the difference in numbers between this year’s incoming Grade 8 students and the graduating class of 2012.
Golden also faces declining enrolment numbers, while the Kimberley zone is one of the few areas in the province to have enrolment increases over the last two years. Carriere said he expects to see an overall flattening of the decline by 2014-2015.
In terms of class size — a sticking point for the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation during its recent labour dispute — statistics from 2011-2012 show that SD6 had been at or below provincial averages for the year. Meanwhile, provincial figures released on August 28 show an average of 16.7 students per teacher/administrator, one of the lowest ratios in Canada. According to the government release, for the sixth consecutive year more than 94 per cent of classes in B.C. had 30 or fewer students, and that 99 per cent had 32 students or fewer.
Other issues at the heart of the teachers’ union labour dispute were addressed by Minister of Education George Abbott in a media conference call, also on August 28, who said he hoped for a more harmonious year in terms of labour relations.
“I’m hoping that this year gives us an opportunity to try and build a little better relationship between government and the [BCTF],” Abbott said. “I think what we need to do in the weeks and months ahead is to try and build on the modest gains we’ve had.”
Abbott also talked about the controversial net zero approach, which mandated that any gains in a new contract with the BCTF must be offset from concessions in other areas, saying that any decision regarding the net zero mandate would be made government-wide as opposed to unilaterally. He added that revisiting the issue when negotiations reopen would likely be reflective of the current economic circumstances facing the province.
Abbott has since announced he will not run in the upcoming provincial election in May, and with the current contract with the BCTF set to run out in June, there will be a new face at the helm of negotiations for the ministry, and potentially a whole new government behind it.
“Why would we (want to reopen negotiations) if they’re not even going to be in power,” said Windermere Teachers Association president Doug Murray. “I’m looking forward to someone else in the government actually negotiating.”
Murray has been critical of the government throughout the negotiating process this past year, and said the BCTF would be holding a provincewide meeting this fall to determine what their objectives will be for any upcoming negotiations. He said he doesn’t see any disruptions forthcoming in the current school year unless the government legislates anything else, and also mentioned an ongoing lawsuit by the BCTF challenging what they call “cash for kids,” which would see some teachers being paid extra for having classes that exceed 30 students. Murray said the government’s “cash for kids” proposal was absolutely not what the BCTF wanted, as it didn’t help students in any way and only benefited teachers.
“Do I think (the government) is a good employer? Absolutely not. Do I think they’ve done great for education? Absolutely not. Do I think it’s good for B.C. children in their schools? Absolutely not,” said Murray. “ …I think everybody is waiting to get back to work, and we’ve said for this last year for the B.C. teachers, coming from the union itself, is try to strike a balance between your home life and teaching, because it was a really rough year.”