The Abbotsford school district aims to create 35 new classrooms and hire 50 teachers before the bells ring for the new school year in September.
Spaces currently used as preschools, multi-purpose rooms and computer labs could be converted into classrooms, and up to 15 new portables could be in use, come fall.
Teacher recruitment has also begun nationwide, including district staff attending job fairs outside the province. The district must compete with districts across the province for teachers, including Surrey, where 300 new teachers are required.
The effort follows the Supreme Court of Canada ruling requiring that B.C.’s government comply with classroom composition provisions from its 2002 contract with the B.C. Teachers’ Federation.
The maximum number of students allowed in Grade 4 to 12 will remain at 30, while the maximum in Grades 1 through 3 drops from 24 to 22 and from 22 to 20 for kindergarten. There is also a maximum of three special-needs students per class.
Meeting the class-size requirements “is not a big deal” for Abbotsford schools, according to the district’s secretary treasurer. Ray Velestuk said the cap on special-needs students is driving most of the need for more classrooms and teachers.
Re-organizing school divisions will mostly depend on the ratio of special-needs kids compared to schools’ student population at large. The district will not be required to create classes smaller than six fewer students than the maximum.
There is also some leeway on the special-needs student cap. The district could create “remedies” such as providing a teacher with additional preparation time if they have a class with four special-needs students.
The district may cancel as many as five rental agreements with preschools and before- and after-school programs that currently use school rooms and portables. A StrongStart early-learning program location may also be relocated.
Velestuk said organizations that had planned to use spaces during the next school year will “know very soon” whether their rental agreements will be cancelled.
Three portable classrooms will arrive this summer from the ministry of education and the district has requested 12 more.
“It’s not likely that we would have all those in place for September,” Velestuk said.
It is not known exactly where the portables will be installed but most will likely end up on east Abbotsford campuses, where schools are the most crowded.
But Velestuk said there are more factors to consider than just student population.
“We have to have room for a portable,” he said. “We don’t really want to take out all the staff parking to put portables on. We don’t want to put them on top of a sports field.”
The district may also consider changing catchment boundary changes or forced transfers, Velestuk said, but it is too late to do so for the 2017/2018 school year.
Velestuk said it wouldn’t be accurate to say the district was “frantic” to make the changes in time.
“I think we’ve got this in hand,” he said.
“The budget process and the staffing process is always a busy time for us,” he said. “It’s not that this is completely new. It’s heightened this year because there are some pretty significant changes to how we operate our schools.”