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BCTF wins grievance over teacher shortage in public schools

Arbitrator found Chilliwack school district did not hire enough on-call teachers or librarians

The B.C. Teacher’s Union has won a grievance against the province’s school boards for not hiring enough on-call teachers or teacher librarians.

In a news release issued Monday, the union said that many school districts have not hired enough teachers to meet class-size and composition rules brought back in a November 2016 Supreme Court of Canada decision.

The decision restored class size and composition language stripped from the union’s contract in 2002.

The union’s grievance, filed last November, used Chilliwack School District as an example, although union president Glen Hansman noted that it was not the only school district who failed to hire enough teachers.

“Chilliwack is not the only district that could have hired more teachers and chose not to,” Hansman said.

“Hundreds more people applied for positions and some districts didn’t hire them, or even interview.”

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Arbitrator Jennifer Glougie found that the B.C. Public Schools Employers Association had failed in its responsibility to hire enough on-call teachers to replace regular classroom teachers.

The shortage occurred, Glougie wrote, because former teachers-on-call took full-time teaching positions brought in by the Supreme Court decision.

According to the Chilliwack’s school district’s collective agreement, the association must replace any teacher who’s absent for a half-day or more.

Glougie also found that the school district breached its obligation to hire enough teacher librarians and further, that it was wrong in pulling librarians away from their duties to cover off classes that would otherwise not have teachers.

The union said that by using librarians to fill in teaching positions, the association went against requirements to use proper on-call teachers for the role, and forced librarians to do work that fell outside of their normal duties.

“It’s now the seventh week of the school year and there are almost 400 teaching jobs advertised,” Hansman said.

“This shortage was predictable and avoidable. It must be addressed immediately.”

Glougie said that although teacher librarians were “rarely” asked to cover for absent teachers prior to the union’s Supreme Court win, 27,295 minutes of teacher librarian time were used to cover for a lack of teachers in the 2017/18 school year.

“I am satisfied… that it represents a departure from previous years,” Glougie wrote.

“I am satisfied that the District’s use of teacher librarians to avoid the full impact of the teacher-on-call shortage had the effect of preventing teacher librarians from realizing the full benefit of the Supreme Court of Canada decision restoring the minimum staff ratios.”

Glougie noted that the school district’s reassigning of teacher librarians did not meet the “emergency” requirement set out in the collective agreement.

In a statement, Education Minister Rob Fleming blamed the previous Liberal government for “after years of cutting jobs and fighting teachers in the Supreme Court.”

Fleming said that schools were in a “much better place” compared to last year and highlighted the $400 million spent by the province to fill 3,700 teaching positions since the Supreme Court decision came down.

He did acknowledge that it remained difficult to fill specialized teaching positions and that the province had added 170 new post-secondary spots to educate teachers.


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