The Abbotsford school district “has been incredibly busy” in recent months, filling dozens of teaching positions.
The hiring blitz has seen the district employ 150 new continuing education and full-time teachers since February, according to its spokesperson Kayla Stuckart. But there remain more than 90 unfilled part- and full-time positions as of Monday Aug. 21, she said in an email.
“We are still very much in the hiring phase,” Stuckart said, just over two weeks before classes were set to start for the 2017/18 school year.
Like many B.C. school districts, Abbotsford was forced into a mad scramble to find teachers this year. The BC Liberal government signed a deal in March providing $330 million to fund 2,600 new teacher jobs and comply with a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year that ended a lengthy court battle over contract language governing class size and special needs support ratios.
“The province’s shift in classroom composition has allowed us to create numerous opportunities for both new teachers and many existing part-time teachers in our district,” Stuckart wrote. “More impressively, we are seeing teacher recruitment from not only the Lower Mainland but from all across Canada, and we believe this speaks to our innovative district and ongoing supports that we provide our staff.
“There has never been a better time to be a teacher with the Abbotsford school district.”
A provincewide hiring spree of this magnitude had been unheard of over more than a decade, so officials had to not only fill jobs but create necessary space for new classrooms. Across B.C., districts converted everything from shop classes to multipurpose rooms into standard classrooms.
The Abbotsford school district determined it needed to create 35 new classrooms. It has ordered portables, converted computer labs into classrooms and declined to renew lease agreements with daycares located in portables.
The News has requested further details on the hiring efforts and what will happen if positions remain unfilled but have yet to receive a response from the Abbotsford school district.
Elsewhere in B.C., districts have been making similar efforts.
“We hired just over 100 teachers for the classrooms – 102.9 full time equivalent positions,” said Nanaimo and Ladysmith School District spokesperson Dale Burgo.
In Surrey, school district officials had to fill 325 positions, according to spokesperson Doug Strachan, and closed 60 postings just last week.
“Our focus is on backfilling to ensure we have enough teachers on the teacher-on-call list,” said Strachan. “A lot of the hirings come from that list. The list is typically 200 long.”
Filling jobs and rearranging learning spaces was a struggle, admitted CEO and superintendent of the Central Okanagan School District Kevin Kaardal.
“Lots of work by lots of very, very committed people,” said Kaardal. “It started back in November when the Supreme Court decision was decided. We got ahead of the curve.”
Kaardal said they’ve hired 170 teachers without trouble, saying the number of came from both the court ruling and some retirements.
“We (also) had to create 59 new learning spaces, including the addition of five portables,” Kaardal added. “We repositioned portables. We actually reopened classrooms that had been closed or repurposed for some other reason.”
RELATED: Province funds 2,600 more teachers
The B.C. education ministry issued a statement this week, saying progress is going well across the province.
“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.”
The court case cost the government $2.6 million in legal costs. The settlement is to provide a system to carry the province’s public school system to 2019, when the current teacher contract must be renegotiated.