School District 20 (SD20) has been trying to figure out a way to fill gaps left by too few educational assistants (EA) in classrooms, and now, it has a plan.
Teachers teaching on call (TTOC) are being given the option to get their name added to the on-call EA list, allowing them to step in for a day or two wherever they are needed around the district.
Over the past year, the school board has made many attempts to fill the open EA spots, and while some hires were made, the district still found themselves short of needed personnel.
Andy Davidoff, president of the Kootenay Columbia Teachers’ Union says the new plan comes after plenty of collaborative talks between unions and the board.
“We have had a huge problem with EA shortages in classrooms and the board has tried all kinds of things without success, so what we’ve done, is working with the Canadian Union of Public employees (CUPE) and the KCTU and the board, we have negotiated a way that we can fill those absences,” he said.
Roger Smith, president of the CUPE local 1285 in Castlegar, says the pressure on current on-call EAs with the shortage of personnel has been stressful for union members.
“The current practice is burning/stressing out the regular EAs,” he said in an email interview. “This is also not a good situation for the most fragile students in the system. So hopefully by adding more CUPE casual EAs with current district TTOCs, it will add some consistency for the students and ease the work and stress load for regular EAs. (With this plan), there will be less shuffling of personnel within the individual schools when there are not enough casuals available.”
Davidoff says the plan is what the district needs right now to ensure that every student gets the attention they need and so teachers are not overworked.
“If you have EAs absent, you have students that have special needs that are very difficult to cover and that puts pressure on everybody,” he said. “Those students need specialized attention and it has been really difficult for us. It is a good thing that we have worked this out.”
Smith says the current situation should be a temporary one with the board continuing its efforts in recruiting.
“CUPE would prefer to have the board continue their efforts on recruiting post secondary qualified graduating EAs as we see this upcoming practice as a ‘band aid’ solution at best,” he said, adding that a lack of funding is the crux of the issue. “We realize, not that we agree with, the government’s current lack of educational funding is really putting ‘the screws’ to all districts. The EAs hours of work or lack thereof, are the results of continuous claw backs and erosion due to lack of funding and thus could be a factor in the district’s recruiting.”
Currently, EAs are part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), while TTOC in SD20 are part of the KCTU.
TTOC have the option of getting their names added to the casual EA on-call list, and Marcy VanKoughnett, human resources at SD20, says those teachers will now be members of two unions – the KCTU and CUPE.
“If a part-time teacher or TTOC wanted to be part of the casual EA list, then they would be part of that union of employees as well,” she said. “They would hold the position as a TTOC as well as a position of an EA. Depending on what work they are called out for on any given day, is the work that they would do and the work they would be paid for.”
The expanded on-call educational assistant list has been put into practice already, but VanKoughnett says the district is still on the hunt for more EAs. To see job postings and a detailed job description for the EA position, visit www.sd20.bc.ca.