School District 43 will be able to balance its budget this year thanks to the infusion of cash from previous surpluses and burgeoning enrolment in international education.
But the biggest news at Tuesday's public budget meeting was heralded by teachers as a great relief when the annual layoff and recall process was cancelled for this year — the first time in 16 years.
"It's great news for teachers," said Coquitlam Teachers' Association president Ken Christensen, who said last year, 300 teachers had to be laid off and noted this year's retention plan is a first since 2001.
Putting an end to the layoff and recall process comes as the district identifies school needs for spending $16.9 million in classroom enhancement funds and comes just three years after 600 teachers were laid off and signalled their dismay with a public protest.
Now, SD43 is cancelling the process to ensure it has enough teachers in what has become an increasingly competitive job market as many B.C. districts scramble to meet collective agreement requirements as stipulated by a B.C. Supreme Court decision and an agreement between the BC Teachers' Federation and the provincial government.
"The risk of not enough [teachers] is worse than the risk of no layoffs both financially and educationally," Patricia Gartland told The Tri-City News.
Typically, teachers at the bottom of the seniority list are laid off in spring, with most rehired back when enrolment and retirements are confirmed. This year SD43 is guessing that it will likely need everybody back in schools in September.
Budget figures show other good news as well. Officials are recommending the SD43 board of education pass a budget that hires back some positions that were cut to balance the budget in previous years and add new ones to help with school needs, including:
• two learning services teachers;
• two school psychologists;
• two speech and language pathologists;
• two tech support teachers;
• and seven education assistants.
As for whether the layoff and recall process could be cancelled for next year as well, Gartland said she couldn't be certain, but she said ending the stressful procedure has always been the district's goal.
Meanwhile, it's up to school officials to identify how many teachers they will need to achieve ratios in the collective agreement, with numbers expected April 28, after the public budget meeting.
Then comes the job of organizing classrooms and identifying space needs. For the most part, schools can accommodate smaller classes without portables, Gartland said, because computer labs and other multi-purpose rooms can be converted to classes.
"We're doing our best to accommodate students in their existing schools," she said.