Students head into a portable classroom in Chilliwack. Some urban centres are seeing rising enrolment. (Jenna Hauck/Black Press)

B.C. schools brace for more students, teachers

Hiring 3,500 more teachers going well, Education Minister Rob Fleming says

Most urban and rural schools are keeping pace in their efforts to recruit and retain more teachers to meet a court-mandated target for reduced class sizes, Education Minister Rob Fleming says.

With 3,500 new teaching positions to be filled going into the school year that begins Tuesday, there was concern that teachers would migrate to urban centres that have the bulk of the new job openings. But Fleming said Friday that based on his conversations with school district officials so far, they are managing.

B.C. is attracting teachers from out of province to take part in one of the largest increases in teaching resources ever, Fleming said.

“I think the story is getting out there that B.C., after 16 years of confrontation, and that’s all you heard about our school system was government fighting teachers, B.C. has an ambitious agenda for public education now, and this is an exciting place to come and work,” he said.

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.

The settlement was added to when the NDP government took office in July, and the cost is now estimated at $376 million. The agreement is to carry the province’s public school system to 2019, when the current teacher contract must be renegotiated.

Fleming acknowledged that some rural districts are still working to recruit teachers, and specialty teaching positions are part of the challenge.

When the agreement with the union was reached, the ministry established a $2 million fund for rural and remote school districts to help recruit and retain teachers. The agreement also includes alternatives when a district can’t meet the restored teacher contract provisions that were removed by legislation in 2002.

Teachers can agree to take additional preparation time, extra teaching support or other forms of assistance, if approved by them and their union local.