Teacher Brent Mansfield is seen in his classroom at Lord Roberts Elementary School in Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday December 6, 2017. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

B.C. teachers’ union to ask for higher salaries to help with shortages

B.C. starting teacher salaries are $10,000 to $15,000 lower than Ontario or Alberta says B.C. Teachers’ Federation president.

The union representing British Columbia teachers will look to boost salaries, when their contract negotiations open later this year.

B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Glen Hansman told a crowd at the union’s annual general meeting Saturday night that the province’s low starting salaries mean that B.C. still isn’t attracting enough qualified teachers to fill a shortage that continues to reverberate across the province.

Related: Teaching shortage not being felt in Central Okanagan

B.C. starting salaries are $10,000 to $15,000 lower than Ontario or Alberta, he said in an interview before his speech. That makes B.C. and Quebec the lowest in Canada, he said.

“We don’t set our (bargaining) objectives until the fall, but it could be fair to assume that given affordability issues in British Columbia, salary is going to be very important to look at, as well as unaddressed issues around class size and composition,” Hansman said.

Public sector bargaining begins in less than 10 months for the BCTF, he said. It is one of several unions that will renegotiate their contracts, which expire in June 2019, with the province.

British Columbia school districts have been since the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of restoring language around class size and composition. About 3,500 positions have been filled and 300 remain open.

Related: BC Teachers Federation votes unanimously on deal

Hansman said that doesn’t tell the whole story. The shortage of substitute teachers remains a problem, especially in Metro Vancouver. It means that when a teacher is absent, there is a domino effect in classrooms, with special-education and English-language teachers being pulled from their assignments to fill in.

“It’s disruptive for the students who are supposed to be getting their support; it’s disruptive for the other teachers at the school, who depend on kids coming and going throughout the day,” Hansman said.

He also said the current class size and composition standards may not be up to standard — another area that union members will discuss before heading into bargaining.

“We won in the Supreme Court of Canada in November of 2016, but what has been restored is language that hasn’t changed, more or less, for a quarter century,”Hansman said. “So had that language around class size and composition never been unconstitutionally legislated away in the first place, presumably it would have continued to have evolved over subsequent rounds of bargaining.”

Early this month, Education Minister Rob Fleming announced an additional $571,000 to train more than 100 teachers in the highest-demand fields such as special education, French, math and physics.

Fleming added that last year’s hiring spree was the largest in a generation and the province is continuing to make improvements to recruit and retain more teachers.

The extra funding for spaces came in response to a task force appointed to identify challenges facing school districts across the province, Fleming said.

A report by the task force determined 54 school districts had difficulty finding and retaining learning assistance teachers, teacher librarians, counsellors, and science, math and French teachers.

The BCTF annual general meeting continues through Tuesday and includes an address by Premier John Horgan that day.

Related: RCMP, teachers take action after spike in bullying at B.C. high school

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

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