Education minister talks teachers, schools in visit to Kamloops

Education minister talks teachers, schools in visit to Kamloops

Dale Bass, Kamloops This Week

The province is making headway in hiring the number of teachers needed in the public school system, said the man in charge of making it happen.

Minister of Education Rob Fleming said he believes about 3,300 of the estimated 3,500 needed have been hired to meet the requirements flowing from the Supreme Court of Canada decision last year that reinstated 2002 language in teachers contracts addressing classroom size and composition.

“We’re nearly there,” Fleming said after a session on Friday with Grade 3 students at Westmount elementary, where he handed out library cards to the class of 22.

One of the problems, however, is those who have been teachers on call are the ones mainly being hired, which is leading to a shortage of substitute teachers in districts. Fleming said work is proceeding to try to grow those lists.

His visit to the city included a meeting with the Kamloops-Thompson board of trustees and others involved in the education system. School district Supt. Alison Sidow said she felt the meetings went well and that Fleming heard about School District 73’s strategic plan and the need for investment to address aging schools.

Sidow said trustees and administrators stressed that crunch is not simply a school district issue, “but a community issue.”

Earlier this year, the school board produced a pamphlet, Schools: An Investment In Our Future, containing enrolment projections through 2025, capital infrastructure needs and fact boxes on how much money has been spent in the past in the Kamloops-Thompson compared to other districts in B.C.

In its pamphlet, the district points out it had 2.6 per cent of provincial student enrolment from 2001 to 2017 ((which happens to be the entire length of the B.C. Liberal reign), yet received only one-half per cent of the provincial capital expenditure.

Also noted is the fact the province spent $2 billion on schools in B.C. from 2002 to 2016, with Kamloops-Thompson accounting for only $10.7 million of that pot of cash.

By comparison, school districts in Kelowna ($114.7 million), Victoria ($96.2 million), North Vancouver ($73.9 million), Prince George ($60.9 million) and Vernon ($57.5 million) all received more in infrastructure funding.

In addition, between 2001 and 2017, the local district received an average of $742 per student in capital infrastructure spending, while the provincial average during that 16-year period was, on average, $6,888 per student.

The Top 4 priority list in capital expenditures: Valleyview secondary needs to be expanded at a cost of $22 million; Westmount elementary needs a $9 million expansion; Pineview Valley needs an elementary school, with cost pegged at $18 million; and South Kamloops secondary requires a new gym and an addition to the main building, at a cost of $17 million.

Meghan Ross, an outreach worker with the Thompson-Nicola Regional District library system, said Fleming handed out library cards during his visit to Westmount, each in envelopes addressed specifically to the students, to help promote the value of the library to children as young as those in Grade 3.

Ross said the library hopes to connect with as many Grade 3 students as possible through the program. Grade 3 was chosen, she said, because students at that level are beginning to really engage in reading and the library can play a key role in fuelling their excitement in the new skill.

Fleming answered questions from the students, telling one he has had his job “just a little longer than you’ve been in Grade 3.” In response to another about his work, Fleming said he works long hours, adding, “but lots of people have to do that.”

Fleming said that, unlike other jobs, “your parents and other people decide if I get to keep my job every four years.”

He has also been on an airplane more than 200 times, thinks Thompson Rivers University has a beautiful campus and, eliciting some gasps, talked about visiting an elementary school with grades from kindergarten to seven “that has just 12 students.”

Later, Fleming told KTW the philosophy that instructs his ministry is one to that will show respect for teachers.

“Which is quite the opposite from the last government,” he said of the B.C. Liberal administration. “There were too many years of chaos.”

He praised the public education system as remaining resilient through those challenging years and said his task is to make the system truly great.