Twenty-three Nelson public school teachers received layoff notices earlier this month.
Elsewhere in the Kootenay Lake School District (SD8), another 13 teachers were also told their positions wouldn’t exist by the end of June.
This after SD8 learned the province plans to reduce its funding protection by 1.5 per cent per school year beginning next September, taking $750,000 out of the district’s budget. The funding reductions will continue each year until SD8 is out of funding protection and receiving only per-student funding, which is expected to take three years.
“Funding protection was never meant to be a permanent thing,” superintendent Jeff Jones said. “It was introduced to help rural school districts with declining student enrolment, so we wouldn’t have to make major cuts right away.”
In all, the 36 individual layoffs in SD8 add up to 19 full-time equivalent teaching positions lost. But Jones said at least 15 of those FTE reductions will be dealt with by attrition.
“We have a lot of teachers retiring or taking voluntary leave,” Jones said, explaining the affected teachers could move into those positions.
Longtime teachers also have the option to use their seniority to bump a teacher junior to them and take over their position.
“We’ll try to keep these teachers within our school district,” Jones said. “We recognize these are real people doing fabulous work and we value every one of them. We don’t want to see them leave.”
It’s not just teachers impacted by the budget shortfall. Jones said SD8 will close its District Resource Centre and reduce support staff by 1.6 FTE positions. Administrative staff, such as principals, won’t be affected this year, but may be reduced in the future.
Jones said SD8’s priority is keeping schools open. But it’s tough with declining enrolment.
For example, W.E. Graham Community School in Slocan, had 200 students when it opened. By next fall, Jones said, the school is expected to only have about 50 students in its multi-age classrooms from Kindergarten to Grade 10.
“This isn’t just an issue in Nelson, it’s an issue across the province,” Jones said.
Most of BC’s 60 school districts are shrinking, with a few exceptions, such as Surrey and Sooke school districts.
The Vancouver school district, which as an urban district doesn’t receive funding protection, gave layoff notices to 187 teaching staff, and since 2010 has been toying with the idea of closing up to 11 schools, according to district media releases.
But Jones said SD8 is in a unique situation. The Kootenay Lake school district is geographically the largest, most spread out district in the province.
“It’s easy to close a school when there is another one 10 minutes away like in Vancouver,” Jones said. “We can’t close schools in our district without having a huge impact on students. We have to look at other options.”