A teacher is concerned by potential cuts at J.V. Humphries School in Kaslo. Photo: School District 8

A teacher is concerned by potential cuts at J.V. Humphries School in Kaslo. Photo: School District 8

Concerns about high school staffing raised at Kaslo PAC

A teacher is concerned about potential cuts at J.V. Humphries

by John Boivin

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

Parents of high school students in Kaslo have been asked to write to the Ministry of Education about potential cuts to staff and services at the local school.

The initiative comes after a meeting of the Parent Advisory Council last month concerning cuts to staffing at J.V. Humphries School.

“I truly do want to believe that all of (School District 8) has the same interest in mind, and that is we are able to provide education to our kids that offers them dignity, and options, and purpose,” said Cam Zuk, teacher and union leader at the school in his opening remarks to parents. “But it’s hard to believe that, given some of the information we’ve found out regarding projected staffing next year.”

Zuk said his fellow teachers were in support of him raising these concerns to parents at the open-air June 16 meeting.

Zuk said the school district’s current funding plans would see the loss of nearly six blocks of teaching time – from 36 to 31.5 blocks, which works out to the loss of one full-time teacher.

“One teacher is one teacher, but when you look at percentage [of blocks], it’s 20 per cent of the teachers in our school being cut,” he says.

He said the cumulative effects of that loss would see many aspects of teaching and supporting having to change at the school, including what electives might be available, teacher prep time, alternative teaching supports for students in danger of dropping out, the size of drama and shop classes, and other aspects of the delivery of education.

“Students start to notice that. They start to feel that ‘hey, I’m not getting what I deserve here,’” he said. “And yes, Nelson is an hour away, but Crawford Bay has experienced what it’s like to play around with these fluctuating numbers … because staffing goes lower, programs get cut so students leave because programs are getting cut.

“It’s that critical mass we are approaching … so frustrating that we have to deal with this.”

But the school trustee for the area, Dawn Lang, said the concerns being raised by Zuk were premature.

She said because of the provincial funding formula, the school district has to underestimate the number of teachers it needs when drawing up its budget for the next school year. That often will show the need for a staff cut – but once the exact number of students is known, the teaching complement is re-filled.

“It changes, even from the time of the first projections to now, those numbers can change… ,” said Lang. “That’s why the difficulty is for me, is putting people through this stress when it is not necessary.”

She noted if they hired before knowing their exact enrolment numbers, the district could find itself having to lay off staff halfway through the school year.

“It is the process that is done every year, and it could completely even out by the fall,” she said.

Lang said it wasn’t a great system, and they are hoping for reforms to the funding formula to be recommended in a report to be released soon.

She did admit, however, that Zuk was correct in pointing out the other issues troubling the local school, like electives, multi-age classes, enrichment, and inclusion.

She encouraged staff and parents to lobby locally and up the chain to voice their concerns.

“Go to your principal, and if you don’t get the answer there, phone the superintendent,” she told the parents. “I can do work as well, but those are the two places to go first. My voice isn’t as strong as theirs.”

Zuk distributed a boilerplate letter that parents could send to the ministry, customizing it as they wish.