District class sizes higher than B.C. average

But the number of classes with above 30 students has dropped this year

Class sizes in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district are now larger than the provincial average, and around the province there are more crowded classrooms.

Statistics from the Education Ministry released this month show that the number of classes in B.C. with more than 30 students rose almost 25 per cent, from 1,077 last year to 1,343. This despite a new $400 million fund to lower class sizes and hire teacher assistants, which was created during the bitter labour negotiation between Victoria and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation in 2014.

The number of classes over 30 has been volatile in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district, but the size of classes overall is trending upward.

The recent low mark for the number of classes in the district with more than 30 students was in 2012-2013, when there were 27. That rose to 89 in 2014-2015, which created concern at the local board office, and this year the number was brought down to 62.

“It’s an inevitable result of under-funding,” George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, said about the class-size report from the education ministry.

“I’m not surprised at all.”

He noted that local class sizes, once smaller than average, are now more full than at most schools in the province.

The average at the high school level here is now above the provincial average, at 25.8 students per classroom in grades 8-12, compared with the provincial average of 23.4.

School District No. 42 classrooms are higher at every level. In grades 4-7, there are 26.7 students per classroom, compared with the B.C. average of 26.

In Grades 1-3, the local average is 22.2 compared with the B.C. average of 21.8, and at Kindergarten the local classrooms are more crowded by a margin of 19.9 to 19.7.

“It’s all been tied to our budget predicament,” said school board chair Mike Murray, noting that millions have been trimmed from the board’s budget each year, and this year the board must find the second half of $1.3 million in so-called administrative savings, mandated by the ministry this budget and last.

Murray said the more crowded classrooms have been an ongoing challenge for educators, but during budget impact meetings last year, students expressed their concerns that local classrooms are getting too full.

“It’s not something we don’t know about, and it’s something we’ve expressed our concerns about,” said Murray.

Serra said the number of special needs children per classroom is “through the roof,” according to teachers.

Composition is just as big an issue as class size, said Serra.

“Despite what they say, public education is not a priority for this government.”

The BCTF says the number of classes in B.C. with four or more children with special needs has risen to 16,516 – the most ever.

The number of classes with seven or more children with special needs has also gone up to an all-time high of 4,163, the union added.

“When classes become too large and overly complex, all students lose out on time with their teachers” BCTF president Jim Iker said.

“It is time for this government to stop the cuts,” he added.

Provincial Education Minister Mike Bernier responded by saying a $100 million learning improvement fund has hired an additional 312 full-time teachers, increased another 616 from part-time to full-time, and upgraded almost 3,000 support staff from part-time to full-time, as well.

“We’ve been working well with the BCTF on major education initiatives like the new curriculum, so it’s disappointing to see them making broad political conclusions from a province-wide report on class size and composition,” Bernier said.

“This year we are investing a record $5 billion in the education system in B.C. and that includes extra funds to districts to support each and every student with special needs.”

Murray said the early indications are that School District No. 42 will receive more per pupil funding from Victoria this year because enrollment is up by approximately 400 students. However, serving the needs of those students also bears additional costs.

He said it is too soon in the budget process to know how the board’s financial position looks, but lowering class sizes is generally a priority.