Another 60 new teachers for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows schools

Government gives out another $6.6 million to comply with Supreme Court on class sizes

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows schools are getting a $6.6-million boost from the province, allowing the hiring of at least 60 new teachers.

School trustees had their first look at the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District’s preliminary budget Wednesday. It spells out the increase that will be allotted to the classroom enhancement fund.

That fund is being used to reduce classroom sizes after the Supreme Court ordered the B.C. Liberal government to return to class sizes set out in the 2002 contract with the B.C. Teachers Federation.

In 2002, the B.C. government stripped the teachers’ union contract, taking away teacher’s rights to bargain class sizes and composition.

School trustee Ken Clarkson said administration is currently working out the logistics of hiring additional teachers and where they would fit. New teachers are also being hired to respond to the actual growth in student numbers in the school district.

Clarkson expects the district to receive the extra money every year at least until the current teacher’s contract expires in 2019.

“We know we’re going to get it up to the election, for sure,” he said.

“After the election, who knows.”

The May 9 provincial election likely sped up the hiring process for the government, he said Thursday.

While the school district is getting more money to pay for more teachers, it’s also now in a space squeeze, searching for space for the new classes.

“Clearly, that is an issue and something we’ll have to manage,” added school board chair Mike Murray.

The best thing about the current school district budget is there are no cuts, compared to several years previous, Murray added.

“Clearly, the settlement was positive in bringing more resources to education and, of course, we’re happy about that.

“It’s a good time to be a teacher coming out of university.”

The current School Act allows 22 students for kindergarten classes and 24 kids in grades 1 to 3.

But the old 2002 BCTF contract specified only 20 kids in a kindergarten class and 22 kids in grades 1 to 3.

Clarkson pointed out that over the past decade or so the school district has closed several schools as student populations declined, including Meadowland, Maple Ridge primary, Riverside, Mount Crescent and Thornhill.

But now the student population is growing.

“Now we’re in a position of having full schools and we don’t have enough space.”

Clarkson said there’s not enough time and effort explaining to the public the importance of education, even to those who don’t have kids in the school system.

“Public education is the foundation of so much of why we have the life we have – and to undervalue it and not to not pay attention to it because, at this time, you don’t have your child in school– the ones who really feel it are the parents with kids in school.”

In March, the B.C. government increased its spending to $330 million to settle the dispute with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation, funding 2,600 new teacher positions.

The agreement provides “additional flexibility” on specialty teacher ratios in schools, but achieves provincial language on how to resolve disputes over class size and composition. Schools should also see better ratios for teacher librarians and counselors.

Clarkson said the extra hiring should improve morale for teachers, even if only for the reason of having won the court decision.

He pointed out that elementary schools are now built to house larger school populations to save money, but he’d rather see elementary schools with populations of about 300 students.

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school board has submitted a questionnaire to all candidates in the current B.C. election on education issues. The NDP candidate in Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, Lisa Beare, is also a school board trustee, but is on a leave of absence from the board during the election campaign.