Creston Valley Advance publisher Lorne Eckersley’s column in Friday’s Nelson Star (“Making do with what you have”) focused on the recent (and ongoing) challenges experienced by the district’s two largest secondary schools: L.V. Rogers Secondary School in Nelson and Prince Charles Secondary School in Creston.
Eckersley is correct in that September is usually somewhat unsettled as schools adjust to the number of students in seats as compared to those that were projected to be there. However, in my 33 years as a teacher (having worked in six school districts across the province) I have never seen anything of this magnitude.
The schools’ projected numbers form the basis of funding that the district provides for each school’s staffing. In recent years, the staffing has been based on a ratio of 22 students for Kindergarten, 24 students to one teacher for Grades 1 to 3 and 30 students to one teacher for Grades 4 to 12.
At face value this may seem like a fair and reasonable formula until one begins to look a little closer to all the factors that come to play in determining the actual calculations.
The staffing ratio includes all non-enrolling teachers in the buildings; learning assistance/special ed teachers, teacher librarians (the few that are left) counsellors and administrators that teach part-time.
In order for schools to have the non-enrolling teachers (which provide invaluable services to students) classrooms are then loaded with more students. This is not just an LVR or PCSS issue, this is across the district, where schools are left with very few seats vacant. Anyone moving into the area may be out of luck if they have children of school age wanting to attend their neighborhood school (as evidenced in the recent past at Hume Elementary).
So, what is this about a $2.3 million surplus, you ask? At the school board meeting on Sept. 30, it was announced that the district has this tidy sum as a surplus going into this school year. We will hear that part of this needs to be allocated to a contingency fund for emergent needs.
I would argue that providing proper educational opportunities for all our K-12 students should be considered emergent and essential. Providing replacement staff would be another, as this past year saw schools and students negatively impacted because teachers and/or educational assistants were not replaced.
How many of your children in the school system are in split or multi-grade classes? At the secondary school level, how are teachers supposed to provide a full and meaningful education to your children when, because of budgetary issues, they are forced to have different grade levels going on in the same class at the same time? This is the reality in our schools.
Based on this large surplus, future budgets need to ensure that more district funding be allocated for those directly responsible for educating the students and less for additional administration.
The “making do” scenario will not address the reality of LVR having to try figure out how to staff the 11 classes in the second semester that currently are on the board without a teacher assigned to them.
What is the school to tell students and parents? Take online courses or perhaps see if you can get into a neighboring district? Parents and the public in general should be asking questions of trustees and senior administration in the district about how they have $2.3 million extra yet there are full classes that do not have teachers assigned to them.
Paul Boscariol is president of the Nelson District Teachers’ Association.