Low enrolment in Alberni prompted teachers layoffs

Cam Pinkerton summed up the pinch SD 70 is in “We’re broke and we have no money left,” he said of the surplus used to float shortfalls.

Fewer students plus less money equals fewer teachers, School District 70 Superintendent Cam Pinkerton said.

Speaking to a crowd of 17 teachers at this week’s school board meeting, Pinkerton was responding to a letter from teacher Russ Kristensen, in which he raised concerns about the cutting of teachers and programs in the district.

The district has lost 17.5 teachers, eight from Alberni District Secondary School. All were lower seniority, teachers said.

Pinkerton summed up the pinch the district is in: “We’re broke and we have no money left,” Pinkerton said of the surplus formerly used to tap into to float shortfalls.

Student enrolment — upon which funding is based — has been trending down for more than a decade, Pinkerton said.

There were 1,320 students enrolled in SD 70 schools in 2005. In 2013, those numbers are projected to fall to 1,070, and further still to 897 in 2015. Staffing congruently fell from 70 in 2006 to 60 in 2012, Pinkerton said.

The student-teacher ratio will be impacted, going from 17.1 students for every teacher in 2005 to 17.4 next school year. “The Island average is 20.1,” Pinkerton said.

The district is doing what it can by adding two teacher positions responsible for working with vulnerable students, he added. And district staff is waiting for Learning Improvement Funding to play out to see where it can be used.

Compounding the matter is the issue of the district’s transportation budget, which the province has reduced by two thirds, leaving the district to fill the gap.

Of particular concern to teachers are programs that are being suspended: drama, project based learning, as well as an automotive course. “I’m dismayed that the new high school is opening with those programs not going forward,” Kristensen said.

Given that the school will have a new auditorium that there was a community drive for it would be “embarrassing” if drama isn’t offered, Kristensen said.

Trustee Glenn Wong asked how programs are chosen to be cut. Pinkerton replied that the district receives its budget from the Ministry of Education, then dolls it out to district schools whose administrators have to work with it.

Enrolment numbers will be crunched again after September but teachers fear that, although more students may be added, the programs won’t necessarily be resurrected.

“I don’t know if we can put back drama and project based learning in mid-September,” Alberni District Teachers Union President Ken Zydyk said.

Cuts to admin staff haven’t been congruent with cuts to teaching staff, he added. Two administrators have been lost, but others have been added, he said.

The district is caught between a rock and a hard place, SD 70 chair Larry Ransom said. “If there was any other way we’d do it, but our hands are tied.”

reporter@albernivalleynews.com