School district faces challenge to fill vacant positions

Finds itself in competition with other districts

School may be out for the summer but for the administrators of School District 91, it remains a busy time filling teaching vacancies in time for the fall resumption of classes.

“We are really pleased to have been able to hire 15 new teachers since April but continue to recruit actively as we still have approximately 18 full and part time positions open for September,” reports district superintendent Manu Madhok. “Several of our open positions are due to maternity, medical and personal leaves.”

All told the district has approximately 252 full and part time teaching positions, meaning it faces replacing just over 10 per cent of its teaching complement.

The openings are spread through the K-12 classes with five positions remaining open in Burns Lake area schools.

“This includes a District Teacher on Call position to help provide coverage for regular teacher absences during the school year,” said Madhok.

School districts throughout the province face shortages but for ones in smaller and more rural and remote locations, the recruitment challenge is greater because they face competition from larger districts in more populated areas.

“Our human resources department is finding overall teacher recruiting to be increasingly more difficult given the intensive recruiting occurring by school districts across British Columbia,” said Madhok.

“We are finding that new teachers have multiple offers for positions and find ourselves in a very competitive job market for teachers. Several teachers this spring have turned down our job offers to work in other districts for a variety of reasons.”

Much of the shortage can be traced back to a Supreme Court of Canada decision of late 2016 ago which found that the former BC Liberal provincial government acted incorrectly in 2002 in stripping clauses from a province-wide teachers’ contract dealing wth class size, the number of special needs students who can be in any one class and the number of specialist teachers required in schools.

That decision restored those contract clauses, essentially creating a large number of teaching positions which the provincial government then financed and which districts have been struggling to fill since then.

“District staff have attended nine hiring fairs, the most ever, across British Columbia and Canada in an effort to recruit teachers to School District 91. We have had some success through these fairs and will continue to look for these types of opportunities,” said Madhok.

In addition to staffing new positions, districts are also facing a growing number of retirements.

The province did respond specifically to smaller districts by providing additional monies but Madhok said School District 91 looks forward to more assistance.

“We anticipate a steady number of retirements in the coming years and it is our hope that the provincial government has strategies for small rural districts like School District 91 to recruit and retain teachers,” he added.

The district does have some flexibility in that it if necessary it can hire people who are not certified teachers to act as substitutes.

And it has for several years and will do so again next year attract graduating students from UBC’s elementary and secondary teaching programs to live and work in the district each spring.

That’s to showcase the area and the district’s schools in hopes graduating students will then apply for vacant positions.

Overall, Madhok remains confident the district will meet the recruitment challenge.

“We expect to have teachers in all classrooms to start the year, but anticipate some difficulties filling some day to day absences next school year,” he said.