Superintendent of the Saanich School District (#63) Dr. Keven Elder. He says the actual number of teachers needed to meet contractual obligations will be better known in September. (File)

Superintendent of the Saanich School District (#63) Dr. Keven Elder. He says the actual number of teachers needed to meet contractual obligations will be better known in September. (File)

Saanich school district funded for six more teachers

Extra $600,000 from B.C. helps District meet class size requirements for next school year

Trustees and staff with School District 63 (Saanich) say they’ve taken a hill, but there’s more war left to fight with the province over its classroom enhancement fund.

On Tuesday afternoon, the board of trustees at a hastily-called special meeting announced the provincial ministry of education agreed to fund six more full-time teachers for the 2017-18 school year. The District had been asking the province for eight additional teachers but says the six bring them back up to staffing levels prior to cuts made in their budget process earlier this year.

The District had been asking for 53, and they received funding for 51 as of June 27 — much better than the 45 teachers they thought they were getting after talks with the province recently, said Secretary-Treasurer Jason Reid.

Those six — representing approximately $600,000 in additional money from the province to the District — will enable the District to meet is contractual obligations with the Saanich Teachers’ Association, and the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision against the government of B.C. that reinstated class size limits dating back to 2001-2002.

“This what we were hoping to hear last week,” said Don Peterson, president of the STA.

Peterson had said the District needed 15 more teachers in a recent media release. Superintendent Dr. Keven Elder said seven of those positions would be held in reserve until the fall, meaning they only needed eight funded by the province for their budget process now.

Peterson added however that because the funding only allows for six additional teachers, it puts at risk some traditionally lower-enrolment elective courses next school year.

“It’s one of the main issues of teachers, especially at the high school level,” Peterson said, noting that those electives include trades courses and some college-level credit programs.

“We agree,” said Elder. “And we’ll need to get to September to see the outfall.”

That’s when enrolment gets more in focus, Elder said, when students confirm their course loads. Because of the reinstated contract language with teachers in B.C., Elder said the District has less flexibility in being able to offer those electives that attract fewer students. He agreed with Peterson, however, that the issue would have been better resolved had the province met the District’s request for eight teachers.

They are, Elder said, still holding out hope that the province might come through with additional funding in September — but said that’s really in flux until local student numbers are known — numbers that could also affect class sizes once the number of special needs students are also known. Elder said contract language unique to the District and its teachers union, limits classes to two special needs students.

“This is still good news,” he continued. “We had been at 384.5 full-time equivalent teachers. Now, we’re at 435 — or 50 more teachers overall. That’s a 10 to 12 per cent increase in the number of teachers and its proportional decrease in class sizes.”

The number of new teachers could increase again come the start of the school year, he said. Depending on total student enrolment, Elder said the District could get funding for 10 to 15 more teachers though the province’s ‘remedy’ funding.

Trustee Tim Dunford said this is a good sign, “but it doesn’t win the war.” He lamented the seemingly unfair process the District has gone through with the province, adding he felt as if they were like Oliver Twist, always asking for more.

“Why didn’t they agree to this last week?” Dunford asked.

Trustee Elsie McMurphy said via conference call that she could “mine the cliche dictionary” on this subject, especially when it comes to the ongoing uncertainty in government in B.C. right now.

“This should bring us some stability over the summer,” she said, “but we will still be lobbying for the District …”

Board Chair Victoria Martin added they all feel “battle fatigued” over this, and thanked District staff, parents and teachers for their hard work to bring this peice of good news.

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