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Calgary school boards ramp up hiring ahead of fall semester

Two of Calgary’s largest school boards are in the midst of filling vacant teaching positions ahead of the fall semester, after the provincial government increased funding for the effort.

The Calgary Board of Education’s budget for the new academic year has been increased by $130 million to focus on “addressing the needs of a projected 138,000 students,” the CBE said in a statement Tuesday.

That additional funding will in part be used to hire more teachers, education assistants and other staff members, the CBE said.

The school board is increasing full-time staffing by 774 positions, and of that 747 positions ” will directly deliver and support teaching and learning in CBE schools,” they wrote.

The Calgary Catholic School District, CCSD, is expected to receive $35.6 million in funding from Alberta Education

“A portion of this new funding relates to the teacher salary settlement; therefore, the residual new funding is [$24] million,” said Joanna French, communications specialist with CCSD.

“CCSD anticipates hiring more than 75 new teachers to support projected student enrolment growth, as well as over 40 education assistants to support increasing complexity in student profiles.”

A man in a blue suit is seen talking with the help of a mic.
Minister of Advanced Education Demetrios Nicolaides said new funding is being provided to ‘help hire up to 3,000 educational staff and to building schools in our growing communities.’ (Dave Gilson/CBC)

On Tuesday, Alberta’s Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said in a statement these investments are so that “this upcoming school year starts off on the right foot.”

“Budget 2023 increased the investment in education by almost $2 billion over the next three years. We’re providing new funding to help hire up to 3,000 educational staff and to building schools in our growing communities,” reads a statement from his office.

Projections versus reality

While planning is in place, it can be difficult to be sure what shape classrooms will be in until the new school year begins, says Allison McCaffrey, president of Calgary Catholic Teachers’ Local 55, an organization which represents Catholic teachers in the city.

“Everything’s done on projections and they’re pretty good at projections, but you never know until people arrive through the doors on the first day,” she said.

“If those numbers don’t match what is funded for, that’s where you have that gap.”

The CCSD anticipates about 60,500 students for the new academic year, which indicates higher than anticipated enrolment.

A board that reads, "Calgary school centre" next to a cross.
The Calgary Catholic School District is expected to hire more than 75 new teachers and over 40 education assistants to accommodate students’ needs. (CCSD)

McCaffrey says if classroom projections are wrong, the school board will draw on its substitute teacher pool. That can be worrisome come cold and flu season in mid- to late-September, she says.

“There’s going to be pressures on the substitute teachers filling those positions too,” she said.

Despite these concerns, McCaffrey is hopeful for a successful school year ahead.

Heavy reliance on substitute teachers

While the CBE is will continue hiring until after Thanksgiving to fill vacant positions based on enrolment numbers, it will also rely heavily on its roster of substitute teachers to meet the needs of schools, the school board said.

“A key source for filling new positions is our substitute teacher roster. The new hires will either join the substitute roster to replace teachers that have moved to new positions, or they may fill vacant permanent and temporary positions,” the CBE wrote.

Stephani Clements, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 38 that represents public school teachers, is impressed at the CBE’s effort so far.

“I think their HR department has just been hitting it out of the park,” she said.

“They have been trying as much as they can … to provide the choice and variety of programming that our students need.”

However, Clements worries that if there aren’t enough teachers to meet demand, school resources may end up stretched.

A frosted glass sign sits outside a building. The sign reads: Calgary Board of Education.
The Calgary Board of Education is planning to continue hiring until after Thanksgiving to fill vacant positions based on enrollment numbers. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

She said that she’s got a “gut feeling” that the projected numbers may not be accurate and the final figures may be higher than anticipated.

According to Clements, last year there were nearly 6,000 more students than what the schools had received funding for.

“If you physically have another 30 students in your school, you need to hire a new teacher. Those teachers come from the sub roster,” Clements said.

“[The] sub roster slowly gets whittled away to cover the classroom needs and then … there aren’t as many substitutes on the roster to fill the illnesses.”

Avoiding burnout

Clements says the issue puts demand on new teachers, many of whom are trying to avoid burnout.

“The job is getting harder and harder because … you can’t just go home at the end of the day and be done. You need to be professionally prepared for the next day,” she said.

Clements believes that many young teachers want a work-life balance and aren’t willing to compromise. 

Some are drawn to substitute positions, and the promise of more control over their schedule and time.

“I think we’re seeing a switch in just the generational diversity in our schools and our teachers,” Clements said.

“So much in the past has been put on teachers. We’re now, you know, we’re counselors and we’re nurses and we’re parents … it’s not an easy job to do.”

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