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Richmond school board still waiting for full funding

District says it's in limbo with $6 million shortfall to restore smaller classes
2016 Richmond School Board chair Debbie Tablotney

The B.C. Liberal government is no more, and it has left the Richmond School District in limbo this summer with an estimated $6 million shortfall to restore smaller class sizes, as set out by a Supreme Court of Canada decision last November.

Board of Education chair Debbie Tablotney told the Richmond News last week that the district is not in a position to hire close to 100 teachers. This could seriously disrupt school classrooms come September.

“The concern is we should be hiring right away. Our concern is because this is a Supreme Court ruling for restoration and the Ministry keeps saying it will be fully funded; we expected it to be just that,” said Tablotney.

The Ministry told the News it has given the district $24 million to hire 209 full-time teachers.

“Government is committed to funding the full restoration of class size and composition language,” noted a Ministry email.

But, “we are still not yet fully funded,” noted Tablotney, on the heels of a June 19 letter sent to the Ministry, from the board, to urge full restoration of class sizes.

The district estimates it needs about $30 million for about 310 new, full-time teachers.

“Districts are welcome to engage in discussions with the ministry if they have concerns about the funding they’ve been allocated,” noted the Ministry, when asked why it hadn’t fully-funded Richmond, under the budgeted $355 million Classroom Enhancement Fund.

Tablotney said if funding doesn’t come soon, then the district risks losing out on hiring, as teachers will look to other districts.

Tablotney said she hopes a new BC NDP-Green alliance government remedies the problem soon.

Richmond Teachers Association (RTA) president Al Klassen echoed Tablotney’s concerns.

“Come September, will the teachers be there? That’s our worry, that they will be hired elsewhere,” said Klassen.

Tablotney, and a letter sent by the district’s human resources department to teachers, hinted that specific collective agreements at the district level may have a role to play in the apparent miscalculations.

Noted the letter: “On a province-wide conference call with Superintendents and Secretary-Treasurers, ministry staff again reiterated the government’s commitment to fully funding restoration of the collective agreement language. They noted that there are some issues that are being tracked separately that have to be discussed with government in more depth, and that the additional funding relating to these issues will be dealt with outside of the current allocation. We are thus hopeful that this further funding opportunity will result in our district becoming fully funded.”

Meanwhile, the RTA claims the district has already delayed hiring. However, administrators appear to be planning as though the full 310 teachers will be hired.

The root of the problem stems from November’s court decision that overruled 2002 legislation, from then Minister of Education Christy Clark, that illegally stripped teachers’ rights to bargain classroom sizes and composition (how much support special needs students receive in each class).

In order to restore smaller class sizes, Premier Clark was forced to put money back into the education system with what her government called the “Classroom Enhancement Fund.”

On Thursday, Clark resigned as Premier after losing a confidence vote in the B.C. Legislature. BC NDP leader John Horgan will now assume the role of Premier.