Declining enrolment brings class-size savings to Okanagan Skaha

There are nine classes in the district with 30-plus students, down from 33 in September 2011 and 49 in September 2007

Declining student enrolment has dragged down education budgets around the province, but it may actually be saving some local schools money this year.

Fewer kids means none of the academic classes in the Okanagan Skaha School District this year is over the 30-student maximum that now triggers additional cash incentives for teachers.

“We worked with our local teachers’ (union) president to do our best to ensure we did not (have) to offer teachers extra money to take extra kids,” assistant superintendent Dave Burgoyne explained to the school board last week.

According to Burgoyne’s report, as of September there were nine classes in the district with 30-plus students, down from 33 in September 2011 and 49 in September 2007. The nine oversized classes now are non-academic and therefore excluded from the size limit. The largest of the group is a Leadership 9 course with 64 students.

Burgoyne said $130,000 for teachers’ salaries from the Learning Improvement Fund and improved time-tabling, plus fewer kids helped keep class sizes under the 30-student threshold.

Enrolment has dropped slightly, as headcount declined from 6,326 at the end of the last school year, to 6,219 at the beginning of the current session.

But the head of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union thinks the threat of additional costs, not declining enrolment, is mainly to thank for the smaller class sizes.

“They’re still on that page where they think, ‘We can’t afford to pay anything… so we better keep classes under 30,’” said Leslea Pryde. “They found a way to get it done.”

New legislation adopted last spring by the B.C. government mandates any school that wants to run a class with more than 30 students must first consult with its teacher and then hand over about $2,500 per extra kid that can be put toward supplies or progressional development, or taken as salary.

Pryde said teachers wouldn’t take the money anyway.

“We don’t accept cash for kids. That goes against the teachers’ code of ethics, which basically states that we as teachers will not accept materialistic or monetary gain, because we feel that’s exploiting the relationship with our students,” she explained.

The union leader added that teachers are also against accepting oversize-class cash for school supplies.

“The argument there is if they’re going to give us money anyway for resources for a school, why aren’t they (already) doing that? Obviously the money’s there. They should be doing that in the first place.”

Burgoyne’s report to the board also noted that average class sizes in the district are down almost across the board this year.

The drop is most pronounced in Grades 4-7, in which classes average 23.1 students, down from 24.9 last year. However, Burgoyne noted, small English Language Learning classes are now included in the data, which skews the averages.