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.
Over in East Vancouver, Britannia Elementary could need an additional seven classrooms, which there isn’t space for in the elementary school. The good news is that it’s right beside the secondary school, which has spare space. That high school was identified for potential closure by VSB staff last June, but fortunately the elected board voted not to close it.
At the secondary school level, the 2014 VSB report determined that Templeton Secondary School could need about 26 additional “blocks”, while over on the west side Lord Byng would need 35 additional blocks, which equals five full-time teaching positions for Byng alone.
Adding these blocks would also mean, in Byng’s case, a need for more tech studies classrooms and more gym space. Staff noted they expected similar issues at other secondary schools.
May mean limits on fee-paying international students at many schools
This would also mean more schools would have to limit the number of fee-paying international students they accept, which would also affect the VSB’s operating budget, which has become increasingly dependent on international student revenue.
At the elementary and secondary level there would likely be less of an opportunity for students to “choose” their schools by attending one out of their catchment area.
The report says “To deny large numbers of these [cross boundary] applications would create an extremely negative reaction from a large number of parents and families, and would generate a lot of ill will in the community.”
I don’t completely agree with that comment — I think most people understand that when a school is full of catchment students those from other communities can’t attend them. That’s the way it works now and several Vancouver schools don’t accept cross-boundary applications due to lack of space.
What’s more likely to get parents and student upset is a reduction or relocation of “choice” programs. These include everything from French Immersion, Montessori, Mandarin Bilingual, International Baccalaureate, mini schools, academies and more.
Assuming the Vancouver district, and most districts, will need to convert more space in schools for use as regular classrooms — that means those choice programs may either need to be scaled back or moved out of full school schools and either relocated or even cancelled entirely.
The staff report uses the example of Strathcona Elementary, a large school that is being downsized as part of its seismic upgrade. It’s currently what’s referred to as a “dual track” school, with both regular and French Immersion tracks. Removing or reducing the French Immersion program would enable more spaces for the several additional regular program classes it will likely require.
Many B.C. school districts closed schools over the past decade or so and many may be finding themselves short of the classrooms needed to accommodate anything near a return to 2002 contract provisions.
Districts like Coquitlam, North Vancouver and Prince George closed many schools. Some were mothballed and might be available to be re-opened, but some have been sold.
None of this should be an excuse not to act quickly in restoring staffing levels and adding classrooms. The B.C. government used the 2002 contract stripping and legislation to pressure school boards into making the staff cuts, increasing class sizes, cutting specialist teachers and closing schools.
Elected trustees that tried to resist, myself included, felt the wrath of government through repeated “special audits” and eventual firing.
The Christy Clark government needs to act quickly and take full responsibility
The Christy Clark government now needs to take full responsibility for moving swiftly to ensure school boards have capital funding in place to acquire or build new classrooms where needed as quickly as possible. Some schools will require portables and money needs to be provided now to get those in place by September at the very latest. B.C.’s students and teachers have waited long enough — no excuses.
Government also needs to fully fund the costs of restored staffing so cash-strapped school boards aren’t forced to make cuts elsewhere in their operating budgets.
Christy Clark played the lead role in creating today’s challenges and she needs to act quickly and sincerely to put back what she took away.