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At least 84 new classes coming to Victoria school district

District forced to bump Tillicum out-of-school care
Teacher Lisa Wergeland addresses her Grade 3 students at Cordova Bay elementary school. Travis Paterson/News Staff

The Greater Victoria School District is adding 84 new classes at the elementary and middle school levels for September yet, through some clever forethought and a bit of luck, the district is juggling just 12 new portables to make it happen while bumping only two out-of-school spaces in the district.

Elementary and middle schools are bound to smaller class sizes for September in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling reverting class composition to the 2002 ruling. Kindergarten class sizes are being brought down from 22 to 20, Grade 1 to 3 from 24 to 22, and Grade 4 to 7 to a hard cap of 30 that was previously flexible.

There was a consensus that the demand for space could be a lot worse (though unrelated programs are still up in the air).

The amount of physical classrooms available in SD61 is a testament to the district’s board of directors work, which kept out-of-school programs as a priority, said Mark Walsh, secretary-treasurer for SD61.

“In some schools there is a bit more sharing [and work to come], but certainly it’s been a lot of work to make it happen,” Walsh said. “The board is committed to child care and we’ve had it in our minds since the beginning of the process.”

This week’s announcement is based on a detailed review of space within each SD61 school to determine how space could be used differently to accommodate more classes. In recent years the number of students entering the Greater Victoria school system has also been lower than average, meaning there was some room available.

”We’re a district that actually still had space in some of our facilities,” Walsh said.

Twelve portables (new and used) are being added to those schools with less space, Willows, Quadra, Campus View, Northridge, Oaklands, Cloverdale, Margaret Jenkins, Central and Reynolds secondary.

Walsh noted the number of additional high school classes is still under review and are not included in the 84. High schools have more flexibility in the way they organize their structure so less new classes at that level are expected, Walsh said.

The squeeze for space has created two casualties, including the out-of-school care program for Grades 3 to 5 at Tillicum elementary (and only one other, at Vic West elementary). The Tillicum before and after school care program is run by the Burnside Gorge Community Association and totals 40 spots. Twenty of the spots are for kindergarten to Grade 2 and will go unaffected as they’re hosted at the Burnside Gorge community hall and transported back and forth, said Suzanne Cole, executive director of Burnside Gorge.

However, the Grade 3 to 5 before and after school programs are run at Tillicum and all 20 of next year’s spots were booked and confirmed when Cole was told on Monday morning, she said.

“It’s a big problem,” Cole said. “But it’s too early to tell what our options are. We are committed to providing care for the 20 families.”

Other schools within Saanich were able to strike a balance, Walsh said. Braefoot elementary, for example, has a dedicated out-of-school space that is likely to be used for class programming during the day. McKenzie elementary also has a gymnasium that’s shared by both the school and out-of-school programs.

Gyms and multipurpose rooms are easiest to share, Walsh added, while there is a difficulty in sharing regular classrooms with out-of-school care programs.

“It’s difficult for elementary teachers to prep for the [next] day when they don’t have a space that’s theirs, we typically don’t do that,” Walsh said. “With respect to Tillicum, we will be offering alternatives away from the school, but that needs to be discussed and has to work for [the operator].”

The district earmarked $15 million in its recent 2017-18 budget to support the smaller class sizes and composition, based on last year’s Supreme Court decision to shrink class sizes. It is actively recruiting about 160 teachers (140 full-time) and 30 teachers-on-call.