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School board spends surplus

A surplus in the Howe Sound School District budget means more programs for students and teachers, but local teachers simply want more educators in schools.

A surplus in the Howe Sound School District budget means more programs for students and teachers, but local teachers simply want more educators in schools.

"We would prefer the money going into hiring more teachers," said Carl Walker, the president of the Howe Sound Teachers' Association (HSTA).

"That will have the most positive impact on student achievement because there will be small class sizes," he said.

The majority of the $438,000 budget surplus will cover teacher benefit plan costs and salary increases and go towards retaining elementary school teachers who may have otherwise been laid off due to a drop in elementary enrollment.

But Walker said there are still fewer teachers working in the district.

"We've got information that shows a 14 per cent reduction of teachers in Howe Sound, and a seven per cent reduction in students," he said.

There are 209.8 full-time equivalent teachers in the district this year, compared to 221.3 last year. Walker said.

"We are still down by 12 teachers."

He said there were no layoffs and the ranks were thinned by retirement and teachers leaving the district.

Another $22,000 is going to be used to hire a vice principal for Mamquam Elementary, the second-largest elementary school in the district.

"Just because it is one of the bigger schools in the district and with the French immersion program being there we thought it would benefit from that," said school board chair Amy Shoup.

Several years ago all the vice-principals in the district were let go. "At that time we said schools over 400 pupils would have a vice principal at the elementary level," Shoup said.

Currently, Brackendale Elementary and Signal Hill Elementary in Pemberton have vice-principals, Shoup said.

A teacher mentorship program, which had been cut, was also reinstated because of the budget surplus. It provides new or struggling teachers with release time to talk to other teachers for support and get answers to questions.

"Teachers go into the classroom and shut the door," Shoup said.

The program gives them support to do the best job they can, she said.

"We support the mentorship program," Walker said, noting the teachers association is co-sponsoring the project.

The budget surplus means $8,000 is going towards keeping the school board office open during the summer as well. There is $15,000 going to support fine arts and physical education programs and another $11,000 to provide student enrichment opportunities.

The reason the board chose that is there is a group of gifted students who need additional components to their education, Shoup said.

Meanwhile, Walker has concerns about literacy in the school district.

"Literacy is one of the goals of the school board in its accountability contract even though it isn't adequately supporting its school libraries," Walker said.

The HSTA wants library time restored at Don Ross Secondary and Pemberton Secondary schools, where there are no full-time librarians.

At the Sept. 15 school board meeting the board received a report form the library task force.The board will be considering those recommendations, Shoup said.