B.C. school districts will receive $50-million in interim funding from the provincial government to help pay for up to 1,100 new teachers across the province, but in Surrey, the question remains: Where will they go?
Provincial Education Minister Mike Bernier made the funding announcement Thursday, in response to the long-standing legal dispute between teachers and the province over class size and composition.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the B.C. Teachers' Federation (BCTF) following a Supreme Court decision in November.
With the new funding, Surrey – the province's largest school district – could hire close to 100 new teachers, but the details have yet to be worked out – including just where the new hires will go considering Surrey schools are already filled to the brim.
Surrey is already at a tipping point with overcrowded schools and potentially more portable classrooms, said Surrey Board of Education Chair Shawn Wilson.
He believes more teachers are just part of the solution for the district and increased capital funding for Surrey will also need to be addressed.
“You will likely see a need for more classroom space and how we get there, that’s going to be a bridge we’ll have to cross… And boy oh boy, it could be significant. It could have a big impact," Wilson said.
“They’ll have to look at expediting capital projects. I don’t know how you get around it, but even then it’s not an instant repair. You still have two years down the road that you need to deal with (before a new school is built). This (more funding for teachers) is really just to get the ball rolling.”
Wilson is optimistic the Surrey School District will be able to find more teachers to fill any classroom vacancies, unlike other parts of the province.
“Immediately I think everybody will have a bit of a scramble finding the teachers that they need, especially the specialist teachers,” said Wilson. “In the Lower Mainland it probably won’t be quite as difficult as in the Interior, however it will be a challenge. We do have quite a bank of Teachers on Call that we could move into full-time positions, if that’s what they want, so we should be able to cover our bases.”
Wilson believes the government's interim announcement shouldn’t have too much impact on schools this year, however September will be when the real crunch is felt.
“We should be able to introduce most of the supports into the existing classrooms, but the big picture will be in September once we know what the requirements of the new agreement with the BCTF work out to be," Wilson said. "That’s when the headaches will begin."
For the Surrey Teachers Association (STA), discussions around priorities will begin.
“Right now we are in the process of working with the district to find the areas of greatest need,” said STA Second Vice-President Matt Westphal. “This money is for teachers, but could include other people in the BCTF, such as school psychologists or speech language pathologists. It’s not nearly enough but it’s a start.”