With a new six-year agreement ratified by 86 per cent of the province’s 41,000 teachers, students in Port Alberni headed back to school this week.
While Alberni District Teachers’ Union president Ken Zydyk is happy to have children back in school, he has mixed feelings about the agreement.
“We did secure $400 million for classrooms over the next five years,” he said, but “I think the missing part for many teachers is the guaranteed support levels for students with diverse learning needs.”
The $400 million is a sizeable sum but by the time it trickles down to smaller school districts like SD70 here in Port Alberni, Zydyk said that the district will be hard pressed to meet the needs of all their students.
“But there is a recognition that bargaining is about making tough choices and with no concessions to our collective agreement and the fact that there is now a guaranteed $400 million over the next five years, we felt that for this time that was a starting point.”
Some of that $400 million will go towards increasing the number of teachers in the district but with the it having to be stretched over the entire province, Zydyk said the district won’t see a big increase in teaching staff.
“We’re going to need to look at classrooms and look at the needs of each classroom perhaps more carefully and try to address the diverse learning needs of students in those classrooms,” he said. “There are many, many classrooms that have needs and pretty much every school has needs…it’s going to be a challenge to meet those needs with the additional staffing that we will get once it filters down to us.”
SD70’s share of the $400 million will allow the district to hire 10 or 11 full-time additional teachers over the next several years. The district has approximately 200 full-time equivalent teachers.
“It may be possible to put one additional teacher per school to help out,” Zydyk said.
While students have already missed three weeks of school this year, Zydyk said that there were no plans to shorten holidays or extend the school year. The district may choose to rebalance out the terms for high school students so that both are of equal length. For updates, parents are encouraged to check www.sd70.bc.ca.