(Contributed)                                Metro school districts are hiring hundreds more teachers as children get set to return to classes in September.

(Contributed) Metro school districts are hiring hundreds more teachers as children get set to return to classes in September.

Schools will struggle to find subs this year

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows district recruiting as teachers in demand

School districts in the Lower Mainland are scrambling to fill teaching positions with summer drawing to a close, and class sizes shrinking.

With opening day for the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District looming on Sept. 5, there should be enough classroom teachers hired to fill the new positions created this year. But when they call in sick, there could be issues, says the union.

In November 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the province to restore contract provisions regarding class size and composition, which had been stripped in 2002, after a lengthy court battle brought by the BC Teacher’s Federation.

In April, the province gave School District 42 another $6.6 million to hire approximately 60 new teachers for Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows Schools.

Last Thursday, the school district posted another 56 teaching positions, including full-time, part-time and temporary positions, on the district website. The closing date for those jobs is this Thursday, and then principals will begin hiring.

George Serra, president of the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, expects that teachers now on call in the district will land in contract positions quickly, but that is going to leave the system short of substitute teachers.

“It’s going to be a huge problem,” predicts Serra, explaining that in a school of 500 students there is generally always one or two teachers absent due to illness, workshops or other reasons.

There won’t be teachers to spare. The province is funding the hiring of 2,600 more teachers at a cost of $330 million. The Surrey school district alone had 325 positions to fill, and Vancouver 280.

Serra said Maple Ridge has not had the problems attracting teachers, and appears to have benefitted from lower property prices than other Lower Mainland communities, which will attract teachers starting out in their careers.

“I think house prices are making a difference,” said Serra. “It’s still affordable – or a bit more affordable – here.”

The B.C. education ministry issued a statement this week saying progress is being made to hire teachers to meet the agreement reached between the former government and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.

“We’ve been advised that most school districts are successfully hiring the teachers they need to be in compliance with the [agreement] with the BCTF – and also to meet local enrolment growth,” the ministry said. “However, there are some recruitment and retention challenges, especially for specialist positions and replenishing teacher-on-call lists. The challenges become more acute in rural and remote areas, where it can be difficult to attract and retain staff.”

When an agreement with the union was reached, the ministry established a $2 million fund for rural and remote school districts to help recruit and retain teachers. The agreement also includes alternatives when a district can’t meet the restored teacher contract provisions that were removed by legislation in 2002.

Teachers can agree to take additional preparation time, extra teaching support or other forms of assistance, if approved by them and their union local.

Under the School Act, B.C.’s 60 school districts are responsible for all recruitment and hiring.