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School district officials sound alarm over teacher recruitment

SD 59 struggling to fill educator positions after Supreme Court ruling creates spike in demand for teachers
Peace River South Teachers’ Association President Elaine Fitzpatrick says the provincial government needs to create incentives for teachers to move to remote communities in Northern B.C.

Getting teachers to move to remote northern communities is a challenge, and without new recruitment programs, it’s about to get a lot harder. 

That’s according to school district and union officials in the South Peace, who say the provincial government needs to create incentives for teachers to move north after a landmark court ruling that has created a spike in demand for new educators.   

At a meeting Feb. 15, School District 59 officials said last year’s Supreme Court of Canada decision against the B.C. Government has renewed concerns about the district’s ability to attract teachers. 

“I just want to impress upon the board: this isn’t just an ‘oh well, we’ll figure it out’ (type of issue),” Superintendent Leslie Lambie told trustees.

In November, the court restored language on class size and composition to B.C. teachers’ contracts. The B.C. Liberal government stripped that language from agreements in 2002, setting off a 15-year legal battle. 

The ruling has led to tens of millions in new funding for hundreds of new teaching and support positions across the province. 

While Peace River South has received around $410,000 this year as a result of the court ruling, the district is struggling to fill jobs. 

“There’s an increased number of jobs in other districts, and way more jobs in bigger school districts located in places that are seemingly more attractive to young people,” Lambie said. “I’m very concerned about our ability to recruit in this district. I’m glad we’re not even more remote.”

While two positions have been filled by people already in the district, recruiting from outside the Peace has been more difficult. SD 59 has advertised a number of positions on a national teachers’ job board for over a month, but has yet to have a single qualified applicant.  

“With no applications after sitting on a national site after a month of advertising, I have cause for concern,” Lambie said. “We can’t make people out of thin air. We’ll do our best to meet the ratio requirements, but the people have to come.”

Peace River South Teachers’ Association President Elaine Fitzpatrick said many of the incentives that existed when she started teaching in 1990 are no longer in place. 

Those include grants, student loan remittances, and “collapsed” salary grids that add thousands of dollars to first year teachers’ pay cheques. The region’s proximity to Alberta makes things even more difficult: a first-year teacher in that province can make up to $12,000 more a year than their B.C. counterpart. 

“We need the government to commit to funding initiatives that will attract teachers in the north and these remote areas, without clawing back funds from the district in some other way to pay for it,” Fitzpatrick said.   

While SD 59 makes $2,000 available to teachers to relocate to the district, Lambie said that’s rarely enough to bring a new teacher to the region. 

“If someone’s on the fence, there’s nothing we can say to push them over the edge to get them here, to see if they might like it,” she said.