The BC RCMP is reminding drivers to slow down in school zones as students return to class this week.

The BC RCMP is reminding drivers to slow down in school zones as students return to class this week.

New teachers, new buses for Kootenay-Columbia

Superintendent Bill Ford says most of the hires were from WKTEP, a West Kootenay teacher’s program

Tuesday marked the first day of school for students and the first day of class for 50 new teachers in the Kootenay-Columbia district.

Superintendent Bill Ford says all posted jobs were filled, and most were hires from the local teacher education program called WKTEP or West Kootenay Rural Teacher Education Program.

“Pretty much all schools have beginning teachers on staff,” Ford told the Trail Times. “(In) all grades and subject areas … We continue to work to enhance the number of TTOCs (Teachers Teaching on Call) we have.”

Besides new teachers, School District 20 also has five new buses on the road transporting students this week after the district received $650,000 to buy replacements.

Ford said another four district vehicles – three school buses and one van – are being replaced through insurance as they were “written off due to acid contamination.”

More teachers in Kootenay Columbia schools are part of the province’s $580 million funding boost that has enabled the B.C. Ministry of Education to hire up to 3,700 new instructors and a number of educational assistants.

Minister Rob Fleming said Thursday 600,000 students will return to class in September with record levels of funding, smaller class sizes, more teachers and support staff.

A Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2016 forced the provincial government to restore staffing to 2002 levels after it ruled a former Liberal government improperly took away the union’s right to bargain class size and the composition of those classes.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation has blamed a shortage of teachers and specialists for causing disruptions in the last school year.

Federation president Glen Hansman said the increase in teachers or funding isn’t something Fleming or the new NDP government has done.

“It’s something that the court ordered because of teachers’ persistence through the court,” he said. “Beyond what the court ordered there hasn’t been any new additional funding on the operational side from the province.”

Fleming said the province is having difficulty recruiting French immersion teachers and school districts in the Lower Mainland have had to curtail the planned expansion of French programs. Some districts in rural areas have also had trouble hiring secondary school math and science teachers, he said, because moving to those areas is a “bigger life decision.”

Hansman said it is also difficult to find teachers for Vancouver because of how expensive it is to live in the city.

In a letter to Fleming earlier this year the federation recommended that the minister establish a provincewide recruitment and retention fund, and assist in student loan payments, among other things.

Fleming said the problem has been left for so long that it is taking a lot of care and attention to fix.

Hansman said the federation wants the province to be “more proactive,” and he gave the former B.C. Liberal government credit for putting $2 million into a fund to help rural and remote school districts offer moving allowances to help attract teachers from other provinces.

– With files from Canadian Press