Teachers take issue with class size report again

Nanaimo teachers are once again speaking out about the superintendent's annual class size report.

Nanaimo teachers are again speaking out about the superintendent’s annual class size report, which lists the number of oversize classes in the district.

The local union has objected to the report for the past several years and last year launched a civil suit in B.C. Supreme Court against the superintendent and trustees over the report.

“We feel disrespected,” said Derek DeGear, president of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association. “It almost looks like it was just a fill-in-the-blank form.”

He had hoped the report would contain more information – an individual rationale for every classroom that has more than 30 students and whether the teacher agreed to the makeup of the class – and that trustees would take a stand and ask the province for additional funding to address the classes teachers feel are inappropriately large.

Instead, the report consists of the same two generic rationale for oversized classrooms used in previous years, said DeGear, and after a brief discussion about how classes are deemed appropriate for learning, trustees rubber stamped the report at Wednesday’s meeting to be sent to the Education Ministry.

“What they’re approving is that those classes are appropriate for learning,” said DeGear. “My teachers are telling me the opposite, that students are suffering.”

DeGear said the number of oversized classrooms is higher this year than the past two years.

This year, 123.5 instructional blocks exceed 30 students, up from 84 last year and 101 two years ago.

DeGear said at least half of those teachers have phoned the union and told union staff that they feel the makeup of their classrooms is inappropriate. He expects the list of inappropriate classrooms is longer than 123.5 because the report does not list how many have more than three special needs students.

“I don’t see how when we have 100 teachers saying it’s not appropriate, the superintendent is saying it’s appropriate,” he said. “We’re going to keep on fighting it.”

The union took its issues with the report to an arbitrator last year, who ruled that the matter could not be addressed by an arbitrator. The union then filed a civil suit in the Supreme Court against the superintendent and trustees. The case bounced back to an arbitrator in September because new information indicated that an arbitrator might be able to hear the matter after all, but it was dismissed a second time.

DeGear said the union is considering taking its case back to the Supreme Court.

Sharon Welch, school board chairwoman, said trustees had an opportunity to ask questions before sending the report in.

Superintendent Dave Hutchinson said the class size report is only one small element of the overall picture – other factors such as learning readiness, special needs or socio-economic status, are absent.

“My way of looking at it right now is there isn’t a political solution, there’s an educational solution,” he said.

The district needs to develop a long-term, strategic plan, in consultation with employee groups and other stakeholders, to ensure teachers are adequately supported in the classroom, said Hutchinson.