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Kamloops union local to have hearing on shortage of teachers

In Kamloops, the key area of shortages in the past 24 months concerns teachers teaching on call

The Kamloops-Thompson Teachers Association has been keeping track of teacher staffing for the past four years — and it’s not happy with what it has learned.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) has also noted ongoing shortages of classroom teachers, teachers teaching on call (TTOC) and specialists.

KTTA president Amanda Jensen said her union local, along with three others in the BCTF, filed grievances that are finally being scheduled for hearings at the B.C. Labour Relations Board, meetings that begin soon and are expected to continue into the fall.

In Kamloops, the key area of shortages in the past 24 months concerns TTOCs, Jensen said. There aren’t enough to allow for teachers to take sick days or time off for family obligations, she said.

And, if they do, often the district takes learning-assistant teachers (LAT) out of their duties to put them into classrooms to teach, something their union contract allows.

However, Jensen said such moves are meant for emergency situations.

“And, when you’re doing it almost every day, that’s not an emergency,” Jensen said, noting the routine practice points to a system shortage.

Teachers are also needed in specialty areas — senior-level sciences, French, physics, math and technology. Not all gaps are as large; math, for example, occurs “in different pockets of time,” Jensen said.

The grievance filed addresses the lack of TTOCs as the primary concern, as well as taking LATs away from their primary role of helping students with special needs.

The problem has existed for years, Jensen said, noting the KTTA started its statistical recording in 2014.

But it became a larger problem after the Supreme Court of Canada restored the BCTF’s right to negotiate class size and composition as it existed in its 2002 contract with the province, one that was torn up by then-education minister Christy Clark.

“It’s been over 15 months since the March 2017 agreement that implemented teachers’ restored class-size and class-composition collective agreement language, but not enough has been done to resolve the ongoing teacher shortage,” BCTF president Glen Hansman said on Friday.

“It’s also been six months since a government task force on recruitment and retention strategies made recommendations for immediate actions, but only some have been implemented.

“It’s now June 1st and there are still reports of non-certified teachers working in classrooms, students with special needs losing out on their programs or being sent home and hundreds of classes with class compositions that don’t meet the learning needs of students. While there were some announcements in February to slightly increase teacher education spots, the lack of bold action and provincial co-ordination means the shortage will make the next school year challenging as well.”

Jensen said another problem the Kamloops district faces arises from the fact there are shortages of teachers throughout the province.

“There are a lot more jobs out there and teachers can pick districts they want to work in,” she said, noting some also leave the TTOC list when they find work in other districts.

Proposals the BCTF has put forward to address the teacher shortage include:

• housing and moving allowances accessible in all school districts;

• mentorship programs to support retention of new teachers;

• waiving fees for retiring teachers trying to re-certify;

• expanding access to the current rural and remote living allowance;

• a student loan forgiveness program;

• a shortened salary grid to make teachers' starting wages more competitive with other provinces;

• financial assistance for teachers seeking additional qualifications in specialty areas.