After the landmark Supreme Court of Canada BCTF decision, Christy Clark needs to move quickly to put back what she took away

The Vancouver school board could need to hire over 200 more teachers and will need to use a lot more classrooms. That could mean some difficult decisions lie ahead for its government-appointed trustee, Dianne Turner.

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The old contract language that will now likely be the basis of future BCTF/B.C. government bargaining prescribed strict ratios for staffing these positions but there was no requirement in the legislation. The result is that since 2002 there have been extensive cuts to many of these positions.

So what would it take for the Vancouver School District — the one I’m most familiar with — to adjust its current school organization to comply with its 2002 contract language or something very close to it?

The VSB could need approximately 227 more full-time teachers

We took a look at that a couple of years ago. At that time VSB concluded the board would have to add 107 additional elementary classes to meet 2002 class size and composition requirements, all VSB schools would have to add one or more classes.

At the secondary school level, VSB staff calculated the Board would have to hire about 120 full-time teachers to staff the additional classes required (this would likely be even higher now as budget cuts increased VSB secondary class sizes for the 2016/17 school year).  

The total cost to adding these positions was estimated to be in the $16 – 19 million dollar range.

But there’s another factor to consider that could have significant costs: classroom space.

Will need lots more classrooms — it's good thing the VSB didn't close a bunch of schools

In an interesting twist, Vancouver’s “surplus capacity”issues that have been a friction point between the Clark government and the recently fired school board will reduce the VSB’s costs of implementing the SCC decision, but it still won’t be easy.

In 2014 then-Education Minister Peter Fassbender issued the VSB an ultimatum: they had to come up with a plan to get the district up to an average of 95 per cent capacity utilization (they’re currently at just under 85 per cent) in order to get further seismic upgrade funding.

That would have required closing up to 20 or more schools. Just before the Education Minister Mike Bernier fired the elected Vancouver School Board in October, the board voted to suspend its school closure process. That now looks like an ever better decision than it did at the time. A week later, the Richmond School District followed suit.

VSB appointed trustee Dianne Turner and Education Minister Mike BernierVSB's appointed trustee Dianne Turner and Education Minister Mike Bernier, Nov 8, 2016 at the VSB "media availability" re: the seismic project office. Photo by Patti Bacchus.

Even with its surplus capacity, Vancouver’s government-appointed trustee, Dianne Turner, may have some tough decisions to make for schools like Yaletown’s Elsie Roy Elementary, that is already well over capacity and turning some in-catchment students away.

The VSB’s 2014 analysis noted that under 2002 contact provisions Elsie Roy’s student population would need to be reorganized with three additional classes added. The problem there is the school has space for 17 enrolling classes and they’re all in use.

The report notes “To revert to the 2002 language would mean that the school would not be able to take any kindergarten students in order to find space for these three additional classes, meaning the district would also then have to determine where to send these kindergarten students who could not be placed in their catchment school.”

You can imagine how well a decision like that would go over in the Yaletown community, particularly those with kids hoping to start kindergarten there in the fall. As a former trustee and board chair I certainly can (not well at all).

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