'It's extremely rare': Lack of substitute teachers has Sooke superintendent filling in
First it was a lack of buses. Now the Sooke School District says it's dealing with an unprecedented shortage of substitute teachers – leaving some wondering if a cold or flu could leave classrooms empty.
The district says the current lack of teachers on call is so bad, the superintendent and other high-ranking administrators have been filling in for absent educators.
SD62 began the year with around 200 substitute teachers, but a recent hiring blitz – prompted by a Supreme Court ruling ordering B.C. to reduce class sizes – means most of them have moved into newly created full-time jobs.
While the thousands of new positions were seen as a win for B.C. teachers, educators say the issue of teacher vacancy seems to have been overlooked.
"It's the first time since I've been working at the school board office that I've been called in to teach. It's extremely rare," said Supt. Jim Cambridge, who recently covered an absence in Sooke. "It's a growing pain for hiring all these teachers at one time."
The district has taken emergency steps to deal with the shortfall by cancelling all non-essential teacher meetings and some professional development, so that full-time teachers are kept in the classroom.
The teacher shortage is a problem that has affected districts across the province and will likely get worse when cold and flu season hits, according to the BC Teachers' Federation.
"When that happens, the critical shortage of on-call teachers will lead to significant disruptions to schools and students," BCTF President Glen Hansman said in a statement.
The BCTF is calling on school districts and the province to come up with new strategies and incentives to recruit and retain additional teachers.
Hansman said those incentives could involve student loan forgiveness for teachers, professional supports and assistance with housing and moving costs.
As the Sooke district looks for more teachers to relieve the shortage, it's also dealing with a lack of school buses.
The district said it's received more than 4,100 bus registrations for school bus service this year – nearly 1,000 more than it expected.
That has left it pondering its options which could include siphoning money from extracurricular activities and classroom supplies to pay for new bus routes.
SD62 is also asking parents who have other transportation options to voluntarily withdraw their registration, saying so far about 80 families have done that.