With less than a week before classes resume, the Abbotsford school district has approximately 90 unfilled teacher positions. But a busy human resources department is expected to fill most of them before the bell rings next Tuesday morning, according to its secretary treasurer.
Ray Velestuk said the district has been busy over the summer as it attempts to hire the teachers it needs to comply with a deal signed in March between the province and the B.C. Teacher Federation. The $330 million agreement to fund 2,600 new teacher jobs provincewide followed a 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and reinstated contract language governing class size and ratios of special needs students.
The deal triggered a hiring blitz across B.C., with districts often competing for the same pool trained educators. Abbotsford hired roughly 150 part- and full-time teachers since February.
“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,” spokesperson Kayla Stuckart wrote in an email. “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.”
Velestuk said Abbotsford schools already had class sizes below the new caps but hiring efforts and reconfiguring of classes were mostly driven by the need to limit most classrooms to three students with a special needs designation.
He said the top priority is hiring classroom-based teachers. A number of the open jobs are at the elementary level.
If Abbotsford schools fail to meet the contract language, it may be forced to pay remedies, in the form of paying teachers for more prep time or for assistance from non-enrolling teaching staff.
Velestuk said late August is often a busy hiring time for the district and that it’s not uncommon to see unfilled positions number in the 50s at this time of year, rather than this year’s 90-odd.
He said there will likely be some reshuffling in the first days and weeks of the school year. Students may be moved around and new class divisions may need to be created. But, Velestuk said, this will not be very different from the beginning of a typical school year.
The district has ordered 11 new portable classrooms to make room for the newly created divisions, mostly at elementary schools. To date, two have been installed at local schools, with two more expected to arrive in September and many, if not all, of the remaining seven coming this fall.
In the meantime, classes will be taught in some less traditional settings: shop rooms, computer labs, libraries.
Overall, the effect of the district’s efforts will have little no effect on the school experience for both students and parents, Velestuk said.
“We think that we’re in a good place for start-up,” he said. “We’re actually pretty confident that we’ll be ready day one.”