Education Minister Mike Bernier (right) announced new funding to help rural schools retain and attract new teachers.

Education Minister Mike Bernier (right) announced new funding to help rural schools retain and attract new teachers.

Rural schools face ‘chaos’

'Time will tell' if School District No. 74 (Gold Trail) will have difficulty retaining and attracting teachers for 2017/18.

Tom Fletcher/Black Press

A $2 million fund for school districts to hire and hold onto teachers at rural B.C. schools won’t be enough to stop an exodus to urban schools as thousands of new positions are opened across the province, the NDP education critic predicts.

Announcing the new fund last week, Education Minister Mike Bernier acknowledged that attracting and keeping teachers at rural schools is difficult at the best of times. The challenge is increased as the province moves to add new positions to meet the terms of a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that requires a return to class size formulas removed in 2002.

The province has already committed $100 million to add teachers across 60 school districts, and the B.C. Teachers’ Federation has voted overwhelmingly to accept a new proposal to meet the terms of the court ruling.

“We’ve got chaos about to emerge, with teachers migrating from rural areas to cities,” NDP education critic Rob Fleming said after the announcement.

Bernier said the fund will provide incentives designed to attract teachers-on-call in the Lower Mainland to take up full-time positions in the rest of the province.

A first round of additional teacher funding, announced in January 17, added 4.2 FTE (full time equivalent) teaching positions to School District No. 74 (Gold Trail). However Cam Rittinger, president of the Gold Trail Teachers Association, says that two of the positions are still vacant.

“Time will tell if it will be difficult filling positions in rural districts,” he notes. “The competition [from urban districts] could hurt us. Some of the more remote districts are hard to fill.

“I’m trying to remain optimistic, and hope things will be filled,” he adds. “I don’t know how [the $2 million fund] will be allocated, and don’t know whether we’ll go up or down.”

A rural schools strategy is not yet complete, as meetings with two more districts need to be held.

With files from Barbara Roden