Finance Minister Carole James is hearing many more demands for assistance than the provincial treasury can accommodate as an MLA committee tours B.C. (Black Press files)

B.C. MLAs reminded of rural school struggles

Finance committee hears of falling enrolment, staff shortages

Premier John Horgan should deliver on his promise to change the per-student funding formula for B.C. schools, MLAs on the finance committee heard Tuesday.

The all-party committee is touring B.C. to gather input for the next provincial budget. At its stop in Prince George, MLAs were told about the struggles of support staff shortages, dwindling student numbers in remote communities and increasing violence in schools.

Horgan made the promise in a speech to the B.C. Teachers’ Federation convention in March, reminding the union that B.C. has massively increased its education budget to accommodate the hiring of 3,700 more teachers.

That has left rural schools struggling with continued declining enrolment, a shortage of specialty teachers and difficulty offering all courses available in larger communities, Prince George school board chair Tim Bennet told the committee.

The education ministry told Black Press Sept. 5 that teacher vacancies were essentially filled, after Nechako Lakes school district started the year with 10 full- and part-time positions still open. Rural, Indigenous education and special education jobs remained short, as well as substitute teachers, many of whom moved into full-time jobs in urban centres.

Bennet said his district also started the year with 10 positions vacant, which he described as “a good news story” compared to previous years. School District 57 extends from Valemount near the Alberta border to Mackenzie, south of Prince George, with schools operating with as few as 20 students.

RELATED: Horgan promises new B.C. school funding formula

RELATED: No more teacher shortage, education ministry says

While attention and money are focused on teachers, school support staff have their own struggles. Denica Bardua of the Quesnel local of the Canadian Union of Public Employees said custodians in the district are “understaffed and overworked,” with some being paid part-time and working longer hours to keep up.

Workload isn’t the only problem.

“There’s a lot of violence in our workplace that we haven’t seen before,” Bardua told the committee.

Education is just one competing demand described to the finance committee. A representative of the Northern Rockies Aboriginal Women Society pleaded for transit options for remote communities, where mothers have no vehicles and face a long winter.

The committee’s tour moves to Old Massett on Haida Gwaii Sept. 19, Campbell River Sept. 20, Vancouver Sept. 25, Cranbrook and Trail Sept. 25, Nelson and Kamloops Sept. 26, Kelowna Sept. 27, Esquimalt Oct. 9, Mission Oct. 10 and Surrey Oct. 11.

Citizens and organizations can submit their comments or schedule an appearance at the committee’s consultation portal.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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