Friday, September 17, 2021

PRDTU survey notes of concerns on classroom overcapacity; union hails goals of better transparency from SD52 board

The Prince Rupert and District Teachers union is expressing
its concern on themes of over-capacity at SD52 classrooms
that as the 2021-22 school year gets underway

Labour leaders with the Prince Rupert and District Teachers Union are pointing towards last springs layoffs for what they describe as an overcapacity situation in local schools, with the teachers union releasing the details Thursday of a survey of its membership from the start of the school year.

In their information release, PRDTU President Gabriel Bureau relayed the findings of their consultation with over 60 members of the union, which reported that 61.7% of regular education classrooms in the Prince Rupert School District are overcapacity.

Towards some background on the issue, the union noted the following:

A class is overcapacity when the number of students exceeds either the class size limit or the class composition limit. The survey was conducted in the first two weeks of the new school year by the PRDTU and reflects overcapacity levels as of Sept. 17, 2021. A class exceeds the class composition limit when there are more than three students with a special education designation or when there are more than two students with a “low-incidence” special education designation. 

 SD52 has agreed to limits on class sizes and the number of students with a special education designation in a classroom. These limits help ensure that students get the support they need and limit teacher workloads. Last year's cuts to nearly 10% of the teachers in SD52 reduced the number of teachers for providing supports for students. The PRDTU expects shortages of substitute teachers and student support teachers, whose role is help teachers whose classes are overcapacity.

Mr. Bureau also observed of increased workloads and fewer supports in the classroom,  as well as to reinforce their message of earlier this week that SD52 management and administration should be cut before classroom positions are impacted.

“Teachers are reporting increased workloads and fewer supports for students. By cutting staffing, SD52 has made a bad situation ever worse. Many classes in SD52 were already overcapacity - before the cuts. This survey demonstrates the extent of the problem. There should be no cuts to teachers when classes are overcapacity. 

SD52 management and administration should be cut before classroom teachers are cut," said Bureau. "If the budget needs balancing, then managers should carefully examine spending priorities to safeguard direct supports for students. Given the mandate of the public schools, instructional priorities and staffing must come first, especially with so many overcapacity classes."

The survey also included some observations from the first weeks of school from teachers.

Teachers across SD52 report higher levels of unsupported students with special needs. At least two teachers, in two different schools, report that there are eight students with special needs in their class, exceeding the limit by five students. 

Another teacher reports that their school has "much larger classes sizes this year - with a more complex composition, which is challenging as many students who returned were not with us last year." 

Teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school all share the same concerns. As one teacher said in the survey, "classes are definitely larger...I've seen several classes over thirty in my school."

The School District has not as of yet, provided any of its own observations on the launch of the 2021-22 school year. 

The Board of Education hosted its first meeting of the year on Tuesday, however has yet to release any data related to what the return to school has looked like from a school to school basis.

The full information release and observations from the PRDTU survey can be reviewed here.

Earlier Thursday the PRDTU also made note of some initiatives that seemingly came out of the Tuesday Board meeting, those addressing themes of School Board governance

According to the PRDTU, three decisions made by the Board of Trustees at the September 14, 2021 meeting will improve public access and increase accountability and oversight, which will help the Board of Trustees in good governance of the School District. 

The decisions as the PRDTU notes included: 

To hire an accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit of school district finances and oversight- 

To continue to provide online access for the public to remotely participate in board meetings, even after COVID-19 measures are no longer necessary - 

To record board meetings and to make these available to the public for viewing in the future

Those elements were well received by the PRDTU leadership who referenced the previous school year towards how the new measures would be an improvement.

“Having strong and effective oversight of school district management, and widespread participation in public school governance, helps us all work together for our schools and students.

Last year, senior management of SD52 made statements at a public board meeting that clearly indicated that the cuts to instructional staffing would be fewer than what was carried out. 

Had that school board meeting been recorded and publicly available, the record would make this clear. Greater accountability for management builds trust in our schools and improves governance. -- PRDTU President Gabriel Bureau

The School District has not as of yet outlined how, or if, those plans will be moving forward, though if acted upon they will be a significant step forward for the Board following some tumultuous times of the Spring.

In particular, the prospect of providing for a video archive of the board meetings (something which we suggested as a possible option at the start of the school year) would serve the School District well when it comes to transparency and ensuring that a record of their discussions is available for parents, teachers, students and all stakeholders in education in he region.

More notes on School District 52 can be explored from our archive page

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