The Cranbrook and District Teachers’ Association (CDTA) says the provincial budget contains some good ideas and policy initiatives, however, further advocacy is needed for student and staff supports.
Shelley Balfour, the president of the CDTA, says the budget invests in student and staff mental health, and she applauds the elimination of student loan debt and the promise of keeping Adult Basic Education and English Language Learning free and available.
However, concerns remain around teacher shortages and a new curriculum, Balfour added.
“The Local is really concerned that there didn’t seem to be any mention of the teacher shortage or an announcement about the initiatives to resolve that issue,” Balfour said. “Further, as you know, we are in the middle of a complete revision of all the curriculum from Kindergarten to Grade 12, without a mention about resources for the revised curriculum. Teachers are spending many, many extra hours trying to find resources to fit the new expectations.”
A landmark ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada in 2016 restored class size and composition language after the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation argued its collective bargaining rights were violated when the province ripped up the contract nearly 20 years ago.
Since then, the province — both Liberal and NDP governments — has been grappling with staffing shortages that resulted from that ruling.
The Lower Mainland, with a denser population and a sky-high cost of living, has been harder hit than the Southeast Kootenay School District, but Balfour says SD5 sometimes has its own challenges.
“Our district continues to struggle to hire and retain teachers in the remote communities, French Immersion teachers, Student Services teachers and fully qualified Librarians,” said Balfour. “We don’t usually have a shortage of Teachers Teaching on Call as many of the other districts do but as they get hired to positions, we may find ourselves short.”
A new curriculum has been in the works for the last few years, and the Grade 10 curriculum was implemented for this school year, with Grades 11 and 12 to follow next year.
The curriculum places emphasis on being more learner-focused, flexibility and Indigenous perspectives and history, while also tweaking course structures, and graduation assessments.
The budget, unveiled by Finance Minster Carole James last week, announced an investment of $1 billion in new schools, expansions, seismic upgrades and property purchases.
It remains to be seen if any of that will be used to replace Mount Baker Secondary School or Isabella Dickens Elementary School in Fernie, both of which are at the top of the school district’s capital project priority list.
James’ budget announced $550 million over the next three years that will go toward additional supports for the B.C. education system, which includes $58 million for the same timeframe for a classroom enhancement fund.