Vancouver School Board cuts teaching positions

For the sake of preserving a reserve fund NPA dominated Vancouver School Board cut another small piece of the ground from under the feet of special needs students. Suggesting that their action was fiscally responsible and noting that staffing levels were just the same as at the start of 2005-2006 NPA trustees seem confident that cutting resource teachers and learning assistance teachers is okay.

The eliminated positions were added in January 2006 during the frenzy of the one-time funding dropped on school boards as a result of the October Strike. In early budget papers the School Board was planning to cut even deeper than the 26 FTE (full time equivalent positions) that they have cut at this time. To partially cushion the blow the board has created full-time teacher on call positions from the regular TOC budget to keep the laid-off teachers in the system. As an aside, the TOC issue is a major one that is affecting districts across the province and while it has disappeared from the news it remains a major difficulty in the everyday lives of our schools.

From CBC News
The Vancouver School Board voted Wednesday to boost its reserve budget for the upcoming school year by cutting at least 25 teaching positions.

By a 5-3 vote, the board eliminated jobs for librarians, English-as-a-second-language instructors and special-needs teachers. The cuts will allow the board to add $1.5 million to its reserve budget.

Board member Eleanor Gregory said the reserve fund must be topped up to cover expenses arising from the deal that ended last year’s teacher’s strike. “We know we will have immediate needs in our next budget year … in the order of several million dollars,” Gregory said.

B.C. teachers ended a bitter two-week strike in 2005 after they approved a settlement proposed by mediator Vince Ready to get them through this school year.

* FROM APRIL 21, 2006: Teachers ready to talk money

* LINK: Facilitator Vince Ready’s report (.pdf) External site

Board member Allen Wong voted against the cuts. He says the reserve budget has historically been in the $3-million to $4-million range, and didn’t need to be topped up to nearly $6 million.

“We’re taking money away from educating our vulnerable students and just socking it into the reserve,” Wong said.

He adds that it will be more difficult to ask the province for additional funding when the board’s reserve fund is sitting at record levels.

Gregory says about $2.5 million of the reserve budget will go toward increasing the pay of on-call teachers.

Moral Victory, Baby Steps, or Just the Staus Quo? Class Size and Composition Legislation

BC’s Minister of Education rose in the house yesterday (April 27, 2006) to introduce Bill 33,
Education (Learning Enhancement) Statute Amendment. This rather innocuous sounding bill does make some significant changes in BC’s education system. It is important to give credit where credit is due. Without the October 2005 BC teachers’ strike it is very unlikely that the government would have come anywhere near introducing the changes that they have under this bill.

The key points:

  • Legislated class size limits of 30 across the board.
  • For grades 4-7 teachers must agree if more than three students with an individual education plan (IEP) are enrolled in the class.
  • For grades 8-12 teachers must be consulted if more than three students with an IEP are to be enrolled in their class.
  • Districts must prepare reports by a set date and explain why they have classes over the caps.

Former Vancouver school trustee and retired school principle, Noel Heron notes that

“This morning’s n Vancouver Sun brings good news to the class size front with surprisingly reasonable class size limits being, for the first time, written into legislation. At last the provincial government has got the message that no more than three special needs kids should be placed in regular classrooms and that a maximum number of 30 kids in Grades 4-12 should be in place. This is a breakthrough and avoids the class averages shenanigans that preceded this legislation in many school districts. Also, it appears that the delinquent boards will have to fess up and comply with the legislation as 15 of the 60 school boards ignored guidelines in the past. The minister, to her credit, recognized that with the three recalcitrant provincial “partners” at the Round Table that no consensus was possible now or even emerging, so Victoria moved promptly to table this bill which also removes, in large measure, some of the roadblocks to a provincial settlement with BCTF.”

These are important points. This is a first for BC. It is also a recognition of the public support for the teachers’ unions and their strong stand in support of public education. It is not, however, the end of the process.

The key problems with this legislation is that it is in great part merely the codification of what has already become standard practice throughout most of the province. The 30 student cap is in general too high and will remain especially so when those 30 students continue to include 3 or more students with designated learning needs that require an IEP plus the grey area students who are there but not noted.

To allow for effective instruction students with IEPs should really be double counted, as there where in several of the striped teachers’ contracts. As a parent I am well aware that children with IEPs very often require far more attention –that is if we want them to achieve their educational potential- then a normal student. Thus, the effective is that even with a 30 student cap having three or more IEP students will present as though the class is a bigger class than the number suggests.

What sort of resources might be required to make this really work? Well, we will need more extensive and more effective inservice training for teachers. We should have additional Special Education Assistants who are trained to work with specific learning needs. We will need to have funds to hire additional enrolling teachers to ensure an adequate available and choice of courses for all students. There are also facilities implications. There will need to be sufficient classrooms to add classes if required.

There is also the implications for classroom teachers who are being asked to accept overload situations of IEPs in their classrooms. Will they have the ability to really say no? Imagine the impact of being in a small school with very involved parents and an administrator who is insistent? Is it possible to say no? One can also imagine a teacher eager to please who takes in every student that s/he is asked to. Irrespective of any hypothetical model the structural relations in the workplace that include other teachers, administrators, parents, the students, and community expectations in general will have much to say about whether a teacher will really be able to exercise any choice in the matter. On this the legislation is notably silent.

The one clear message here is that the solidarity of teachers, parents, and the wider community that was demonstrated in the October Strike. This has had an important impact on how the provincial government has acted. They are keen to clear the way of any hint of political protest in the lead up to the Olympic Circus and they are very much aware of the powerful support of teachers from the parent and wider communities. Realizing this, the government has been compelled to move to avert a major social conflict that they may well have lost or at the very least would have had an adverse impact on the image they are trying to construct.

The legislation thus affirms what many of us have said all along. That is, effective policy must be in place related to class size and class composition for all students to learn tot heir best ability. By codifying the status quo we will at least now have a base upon which to begin walking forward.

Related resources
BCTF Staff Alert
Ministry of Education Press Release
BCCPAC (Parent group) provides link to government page. . . and late Friday issues it’s own press release.
CBC story related to cost of Bill 33. (Download pdf version)