More students, fewer teachers as school year begins
Published Wednesday, August 28, 2019 12:28PM EDT Last Updated Wednesday, August 28, 2019 7:53PM EDT
Students have begun filing back into their classrooms taking their seats to begin the school year, as Montreal's school board struggles to fill vacant teaching positions.
The Commission Scolaire de Montreal (CSDM) includes around 76,000 students from pre-school to high school, 2,000 more than last year, but there are not enough teachers.
"We need the teachers to be in front of those students, so this is a really big problem right now," said CSDM President Catherine Harel Bourdon. "Everybody's searching for the same teacher."
According to Bourdon, the school board is short 100 teachers and is hiring teachers without degrees to make up for the shortfall.
Many students will not finish the school year with the same teachers they have this week, as teaching jobs are in high demand.
The CSDM says it needs around 1,500 teachers over the next five years to meet the needs of the rising student numbers. Bourdon said the board is working with the unversities to ensure more teachers graduate, and the board reached out to France to see if teachers can be lured to the province.
Heidi Yetman, president of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers, said Quebec does not pay its teachers enough to attract fresh talent.
"The salary for teachers in Quebec is the lowest across Canada," she said. "You have to go over to Ontario and the top salary is $100,000. Here it's $82,000, so that's a big difference."
English school student enrollment remains stable, and the teaching situation is not as severe.
Bourdon added that Bill 21 and its ban on religious garb has not caused any candidates to be refused work, but the board recently changed its stance on Bill 21.
Originally, the school board said it would fight Bill 21, but it recently published hiring notices saying employees will be subject to Quebec's secularism laws, which bars teachers hired after March 27, 2019 from wearing religious symbols such as a turban or hijab while on the job.
The notice also requires employees' faces to be visible.
"We don't want to use money from the school board to go to court to represent our school board," said Bourdon. "We need to make sure that the government's going to pay for all the costs surrounding Bill 21."
Yetman criticized the bill, saying it's depriving the province of much needed teachers.
"It's really unfortunate and it impacts the English schoolboards as well," she said. "It's sad to hear that there are people who are not going to be applying to be teachers in Quebec because of Bill 21."
Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge is taking measures to deal with the chronic teacher shortage including raising starting teacher salaries from $45,000 to more than $50,000.