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Schools struggling to retain staff, union says

“I was told last week that there are teachers at a school who are crying in a bathroom because they can’t cope but they are still showing up for work."
SD57 Prince George board offices on Ferry Avenue.

Retention of teachers and support staff continues to be a problem in School District No. 57 (SD57). 

Prince George District Teacher’s Association President Daryl Beauregard said  teachers often leave the profession or the district for teaching opportunities elsewhere.

“I’m going to focus on what the chronically understaffed conditions of our schools do for staff retention because they kind of play into each other. It has become harder for teachers to meet the ever-complex needs of today’s student population,” he said.

He said chronic understaffing means teachers sometimes go weeks or months without any prep time.

“I was told last week that there are teachers at a school who are crying in a bathroom because they can’t cope but they are still showing up for work,” he said adding he often gets phone calls from administrators who are concerned about somebody.

“At the end of the day the first response is ‘I won’t let my students down, I don’t want to let my colleagues down, I don’t want to let my school down’ and so they continue to work until there’s such time they can’t work anymore because their health has deteriorated.”

He said the week prior he talked someone out of resigning, and heard that the district’s HR department also talked another person out of resigning.

“It’s a time of increased workload, it’s a time where there is lots of challenges to morale of staff in this district. There’s also an intense competition to retain and recruit the staff we do have,” he said.

Paula Bass, union president for CUPE 3742 which represents school support workers, had similar concerns about retention.

“In CUPE there is more of a need of retention rather than recruitment,” she said.

“I’ve looked through my membership logs for a few months and can see the school district is struggling to retain CUPE members but is actively recruiting.”

At the end of June there were approximately 940 CUPE staff working for SD57.

In September that was 908 as 53 members had resigned and six had retired but the district did add 28 new staff.  Then in October, they gained seven members, but lost 10 as seven resigned and three retired. In November they gained 24 but 7 resigned and there was one retirement.

“So right now, we are sitting at about 920 members which is still less than the 940 we had in June. This means we had over 65 resignations from June until now. That’s not includinge retirements,” said Bass.

“Retirement is inevitable, but we are losing staff for so many other reasons.”

She said they are losing staff because of lack of support from social workers and teacher counsellors as well as not enough youth care workers, or Indigenous Education workers to work with students in crisis.

“This leaves everyone scrambling to give proper supports to the students who need them. It is imperative these roles are filled because students suffer, and staff cannot keep up.”

She said the expectation for employees to do more and more with less is a common challenge within school districts.