British Columbia's teachers' union says a shortage of educators across the province is turning into a "crisis" that has left some students without permanent instructors, even though a month of the new school year has passed.
The warning from the BC Teachers' Federation comes amid a rush to hire thousands of teachers to satisfy a Supreme Court of Canada ruling last year that settled a long-running contract dispute. School districts searched for recruits across Canada and internationally, but the school year began this month with hundreds of positions still unfilled.
As a result, the federation is calling on school districts and the association that advises them to launch an aggressive new recruitment effort so all children can have full-time educators.
"We're alarmed by the fact that we're into October now, a 10th of the school year is gone and we have got students in Vancouver and elsewhere that still don't have a teacher assigned," BCTF president Glen Hansman said in an interview on Monday, elaborating on a statement issued by his organization.
"If kids, in October, still don't have a full-time teacher yet and a 10th of the school year is gone, that seems like a crisis to me."
Last year's Supreme Court of Canada ruling restored contract clauses related to classroom size and composition that the former BC Liberal government stripped from teachers' contracts in 2002. That has forced the government to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into the education system to hire additional teachers.
Gordon Swan, president of the B.C. School Trustees Association, said in a statement on Monday that school districts, the Education Ministry and the British Columbia School Employers Association, which offers advice to districts, are continuing to address the issue "each and every day." He also said the current situation is a "one-time event" prompted by the Supreme Court decision. "We anticipate remaining school district needs will be addressed over the coming months, and that we will return to a much more normal situation after that. We must not forget that up until this fall we had a significant ongoing surplus of teachers in B.C."
As thousands of teachers have been hired, the BCTF says that has depleted the supply of teachers on call to stand in for their full-time, permanent counterparts.
That has created further pressures in the supply of teachers.
At this point, Mr. Hansman said there's a need for about 1,000 more full-time teachers as well as 700 teachers on call.
With cold and flu season coming, the BCTF suggested in its statement that the pinch could become more extreme as teachers are forced to stay home due to illness.
The Vancouver School Board said there has been an intense effort to hire teachers as part of what interim superintendent John Lewis called a "provincewide hiring frenzy" in a statement issued Monday.
"We continue to hire full-time and part-time teachers, as well as teachers on call. The recruitment process never really stops during the course of a school year, but this year has been far more intensive as we have so many more positions to fill," Mr. Lewis said.
The board has been working to hire 342 full-time equivalent teachers. But it said it has lost 140 full-time equivalent teachers, vice-principals and principals who retired during the last school year.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said some school districts have hired the required number of teachers while others have work to do.
"I know the districts are doing everything they can, as the employer, to continue to send the message out through their recruiting networks," he told reporters at the legislature in Victoria.
He said the ministry is open to a discussion about incentives to help increase the supply of teachers.