Job action by B.C. teachers has led to a steep drop in school field trip registration, hurting the bottom line of organizations that cater to student tour groups and limiting out-of-class learning opportunities for thousands of children.
“Our numbers are down almost 50 per cent for this time of year, most of which our team of educators attributes to the [British Columbia Teachers’ Federation]job action,” said Sarah Lusk, public relations manager for Grouse Mountain Resort, which offers environmental, wildlife and sustainability-themed programs.
“We’re a private company so I can’t share financial numbers, but it is having an impact. I think what really resonates with our owners is the experience that the kids are missing.”
Last December and January, more than 2,800 students, teachers and supervisors attended programs at Grouse Mountain. So far, bookings for the December, 2011, and January, 2012, are just over 1,500, Ms. Lusk said.
The downturn has been even more dramatic at the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre in the Vancouver Island town of Sidney.
“We’ve already seen a significant decline in our numbers, and our bookings for after Christmas are off by 80 per cent, which is staggering,” said the centre’s executive director, Angus Matthews. “We normally see about 7,000 kids a year, or about 300 classes, and the majority of those take place after Christmas.”
Opened in June, 2009, the $5-million centre offers programs to students at a discounted rate of $5 a head and, like many facilities, makes up the difference with revenues from general admissions. Last year, the Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre ran a $96,000 deficit on a budget of about $1.1-million.
While the BCTF has not banned teachers from going on field trips, it has advised them they’re not allowed collect money from students or complete the necessary paper work, tasks the union says its members shouldn’t have to perform.
In many cases, principals, vice-principals, other non-union staff and parent advisory councils have filled in.
Many of the best-known and most-visited field trip facilities – for example the Vancouver Art Gallery, UBC Museum of Anthropology and the H.R. McMillan Space Centre – report little or no change in student numbers this year.
However, smaller, non-profit organizations that depend on field trip revenues are increasingly concerned about the financial impact, especially if the labour dispute drags into the New Year.
“We are receiving groups from the private schools… but we’re still down about 15-20 per cent for the fall season,” said Patricia Thomson, executive director of the Stanley Park Ecology Society, which uses Vancouver Parks Board facilities but relies on government grants and private donors for all of its funding.
Lukewarm interest in the society’s two-day urban camping program in Stanley Park for Grades 4-7 suggests the next few months will be even slower, Ms. Thomson added.
“Normally, we would be filled with 18 camps and a wait list by this time of the year, and right now we only have five groups confirmed,” she said. “That tells us that teachers aren’t sure where things will be at in the spring.”
Shannon King, education co-ordinator with the Fraser River Discovery Centre in New Westminster, another non-profit entity, said school group bookings are down about 40 per cent.
BCTF president Susan Lambert said job action has had little impact on field trips in some districts, while in others, such as Surrey, “more vice principals and principals are refusing to do the extra paper work and the extra fundraising that goes along with it.”
Ms. Lambert maintained that teachers delivering the core curriculum, despite ongoing job action.
“If [field trips]are tied so closely to the provincial curriculum, then they should be fully funded by the provincial government,” she said.
District spokesman Doug Strachan acknowledged that job action has curtailed field trips in Surrey, but blamed the size of the district – the largest in B.C. – and difficulties finding on-call teachers to fill in as supervisors.
“Schools can make these decisions but… safety and security of the students on these trips has to be paramount and it depends what the principals are able to do in light of all the extra duties they’ve had to take on,” he said.
Facilities that have seen a marked declined include city-run Surrey Museum and Surrey Nature Centre, which hosted 90 school field trips from September to December, 2010, but only 58 during the same time this year, said city spokesperson Tara Foslien.
Special to The Globe and Mail