Thursday, October 6, 2016

Teachers union outlines challenges for education on North Coast for Finance Committee

Concerns related to education on the North Coast received some attention at Monday's BC Finance Committee session in Prince Rupert as the Prince Rupert and District Teachers Union made its presentation for the panel of MLA's at the North Coast Convention Centre.

Raegan Sawka, the President of the PRDTU provided the overview of the challenges facing educators and parents on the North Coast, using her ten minutes in front of the committee to highlight some of the funding issues that local teachers have identified as priorities for the government to consider.

We want to recommend government put an end to the underfunding crisis in our B.C. public schools. We need funds for the new resources needed to implement the revised curriculum and increased aboriginal content as action for truth and reconciliation. 

Increase funding to restore front-line education services for all learners through specialist and classroom teachers. 

Eliminate the lengthy wait for children with special needs to get support. Address inequities facing children living in poverty and in ministry care, acknowledging the impacts on learning and life chances.

The PRDTU also examined the last decade of school closures in the community, framing that narrative as part of the budget cuts that the local School District faces this year and has had to deal with in years past.

Prince Rupert teachers are strongly concerned about the effects of chronic underfunding of the system.  Our local school board has faced budget cuts for this school year of $1.9 million and, in previous years, was forced to close schools and impose other cutbacks to balance their budgets as required by provincial law. 

Since 2001, we've lost five schools, while across B.C. we've seen over 250 closures and teardowns of schools. Our schools were closed with the promise of a new building if we reached capacity, and now there's no consideration of a new school.

And while she may have neglected to mention to the committee that some of those school closures came about owing to the significant drop in population in the community over the last ten years. There is however no argument, that those decisions and other moves to create a middle school for the community, remain a controversial issue for many parents.

Concerns from the PRDTU for the level
of funding for Prince Rupert schools
made for part of Monday's BC Finance
Committee consultation session
When it comes to the budget cuts in place, the PTDTU outlined the impact it has had on local teachers noting that 12 full time equivalent teaching positions had been lost in the last school year and how a lack of funding for positions in the schools is increasing tension in the system.

Ms. Sawka called attention to a number of issues that the union is concerned over when it comes to funding requests, observing that with fewer counsellors, specialist teachers, librarians and supports for students with special needs the system is set up for failure.

Increased classroom levels also made some of the overview, while the need to increasingly rely on parents to raise funds for such things as playground equipment, classroom technology, hot lunches and field trips was highlighted, an indication by the union that funding levels are not adequate.

An issue of recent concern in the city also made for some of her review, with the PRDTU president providing some thoughts on the recent transportation issues that came as a result of budget cut requirements.

"Elementary students are now expected to cross a busy, four-lane provincial highway during a potentially three-kilometer walk each way to school. Students as young as ten are riding our city transit unsupervised, navigating transfers on their own, due to neighbourhood school closures."

And while some might be wondering just how many ten year olds are crossing busy highways, or riding public transit to get to school, the School District has been feeling significant pressure from parents about the approach it has taken towards its transportation plan for the current school year.

To close the presentation the PRDTU called for increases to funding to address an estimated 94 million dollars of additional costs province wide in the 2016-17 school year.

Committee members followed up on some of the themes of the presentation, seeking an update on the enrolment level for School District 52, with Ms. Sawka advising that the current registration is listed at 1,986 students, which she acknowledged was a decline, but not nearly the percentage of the number of teachers and education assistants that the School District has lost.

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice, inquired at the nature of the cuts through the System, as well as to what level of services are available for students with exceptionalities.

Two other presentations related to Education were delivered at Monday's Commitee session, both from out of town and delivered over the phone with representatives of the British Columbia School Trustees Association and the Richmond School Board both providing for their concerns on education funding in the province.

You can examine the full transcript from the housing presentation at Monday's Committee session from the Legislature Archive website, that portal also features an audio link for those interested in the proceedings to listen to to hear the full range of testimony from the consultation.

For an overview of Monday's session see our blog item from yesterday here, an archive of all our features on the Committee consultation at the North Coast Convention Centre can be found here.

More background on the issues facing School District 52 can be found from our archive page.

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