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UPDATED: Teachers plan to rally in Coquitlam to protest job cuts
A rally is being organized by Coquitlam district teachers to raise awareness about the effect of job cuts on schools.
But the organizer said it won't disrupt schools and is meant to bring teachers as well as parents, students, trustees, MLAs, support workers and other members of the community together to support public education funding.
Kara Obojski, a Grade 6/7 teacher at Como Lake middle school who received a layoff notice Thursday — one of over 800 issued to teachers and support workers by the district — is hoping for a large crowd to line Como Lake Avenue between Hillcrest middle and Dr. Charles Best at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday.
"We want to come together as a community and advocate for our kids and what is happening right now because education is for the public good. When the vulnerable start suffering we don't have an education system that creates opportunity for everybody," Obojski said, noting that many of the layoffs affect services for children with special needs.
Obojski is one of 630 teachers who were issued a layoff notice and she has been working part-time in the district since 2005. This is her fourth or fifth layoff and she said any teachers with less than eight years and four months of seniority have been laid off. "There are a lot of sad faces today," she said.
RALLY FOLLOWS LAYOFF NOTICES
The rally, during which teachers are encouraged to wear black and carry a sign with their layoff number, is being organized two weeks after trustees approved $13.4 million in cuts — including the loss of 150 jobs — to balance the budget.
Coquitlam Teachers' Association president Charley King said his association is not organizing the rally but is encouraging teachers to show up.
"We're, however, encouraging teachers to go out to any and all rallies to support public education in the Tri-Cities and we're looking forward to seeing more and were looking forward to seeing our board of education lead some efforts to advocate for education," King said.
While layoffs aren't unusual for teaching and support positions in the district, and many are hired back once enrollment is confirmed in September, the sheer number of layoffs is record-breaking, according to King, who has been a teacher in the district for 14 years.
30% ISSUED LAYOFF NOTICE
Approximately 30% of Coquitlam district teaching staff have received layoff notices, he said.
"We've had layoffs consistently since 2002 and that's no coincidence frankly, but this is absolutely the worst," King said, and he's worried many teachers won't be hired back or will have part-time contracts, making them "under employed."
Some more experienced teachers are also being laid off, which is a loss of talent and expertise, King said.
"When you're laying off teachers with eight years of experience that's a lot of time to be with the school district," he said, noting in some cases teachers will have been with SD43 for 14 or 15 years if their part-time work is counted.
Superintendent Tom Grant said the situation is indeed different this year for a number of reasons, including fewer retirees, and the impact of budget cuts on district staffing.
"The difference this year — I don't think all of the teachers will be recalled back and that's the main difference and that's the human side of the story you didn't get with the numbers," Grant said.
Some teachers who have never received a lay off notice before will now be getting one, and it will come as a "shock," Grant admitted.
Last year there were 480 layoff notices issued to teachers, compared to 630 this year. Only two teachers weren't hired back this year, Grant said, but he expects the number of teachers not called back will be much higher in the fall, but he wouldn't speculate on numbers until enrollment counts are set in September.
He also noted the toll job loss will take on CUPE positions, such as custodians, clerical staff, cafeteria workers and even special education assistants who are being laid off and might not get their jobs back.
"There's a significant number of those 200 in small part time jobs here and there and you're looking at combining those into one job," Grant said.
While he wouldn't comment on the rally, Grant said he was pleased it takes place after school and wouldn't affect students.
"Our teachers have been extremely professional they've been caring of each other and I think some of them are having to find a way to express their concerns and they're doing it in ways that do not involve students which I appreciate," Grant said.
This will be the second rally for public education in Coquitlam, after a group calling itself Parents4BC organized one in front of Port Moody-Coquitlam MLA Linda Reimer's office in Port Moody last week.