The Surrey Teachers Association says a shortage of teachers teaching on-call, and cuts to learning support teacher staff, is causing “significant disruptions” in the city’s public schools.
It’s also hurting the education of Surrey’s most vulnerable students, says Gioia Breda, president of the STA. Breda said while Surrey has about 1,200 new students this year, the district has cut 66 learning support teachers positions and “is short about 100 teachers teaching on-call.
“These cuts and shortages mean many Surrey students are not getting the small group or one-on-one time they need. Students with special needs, including those with autism, are not receiving the academic support they are entitled to.”
Doug Strachan, spokesman for the Surrey School District, said it’s “in agreement” with the STA about adding learning support teachers.
“As the STA knows, the funding for these positions continues to be the subject of negotiations between the province and the BC Teachers Federation,” he said. “We hope to receive the funding to hire more.
“In the meantime,” Strachan added, “our district has about 400 more teachers this year over last year. We also have smaller class sizes and improved classroom composition and this is all good news.”
Breda said secondary learning support teachers are “particularly concerned about their exploding casesloads.” This leaves them with less one-on-one time with the students.
“These cuts are particularly infuriating as we anticipated a huge infusion of learning support teachers.” The shortage of on-call teachers means learning support teachers and other specialists are tasked with covering classroom vacancies when teachers are away, Breda said.
“Everytime a learning support teacher is redeployed to cover a vacancy, it means students who need that specific support are losing out on their specialized academic program,” Breda noted.
Moreover, Breda added, there were 335 “failures” to fill teacher absences in September, a number which has spiked in October. “There were 184 failures to fill on October 3rd and 4th alone. When we hit cold and flu season, which will happen any day now, our schools are going to be critically under-staffed and under-resourced. We’re already in trouble with staffing and it’s going to get worse.”
Strachan said that from Oct. 3rd to 4th inclusive there were 132 failures-to-fill.
The STA president is calling on the district to reinstate the 66 learning support teachers who were cut andto lobby the provincial government and BC Public School Employers Association “to act quickly on a robust recruitment and retention strategy.”
Strachan said the district would like to hire more teachers on call and appreciates the STA’s help in promoting that.
“We continue to actively recruit, including establishing a team from our human resources department to visit universities this fall to recruit graduates,” he said. “Our district offers the shortest wait in the province for teachers-on-call to become full time contract teachers at about 75 days.”
As for the failures to fill teachers absences, Strachan said, the daily average in September was 18, out of roughly 5,200 classrooms across the district.
Last year’s average was 44, he said. “It’s important to note that administrators, teachers on preparation time and other teachers who don’t currently have a classroom are brought in for classrooms where a teacher on call couldn’t be assigned.
Strachan said the district is considering “many initiatives” to help address the failures-to-fill, “including the STA’s suggestion of deploying teachers who work in the district office. In the same cooperative spirit, we invite the STA to consider taking its own steps, noting that on October 3rd and 4th there were 24 and 27 teachers respectively taken out of classrooms to conduct STA business.”