Some financially strapped B.C. school districts are reporting losses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of summer school program cancellations.
On June 27, the Labour Relations Board announced remedial summer school instruction was an essential service for teachers, who are still on strike, but only for courses required for high school graduation that students couldn't take in the fall semester.
So far, the Prince George, Alberni, Abbotsford, Williams Lake, Campbell River, Vancouver, Chilliwack, and Burnaby school districts have announced they are cancelling summer school programs, while Surrey will offer a stripped-down remedial summer program.
Vancouver and Surrey both planned to offer summer school programs for international students who pay their tuition directly, unlike domestic students whose tuition is covered by the provincial government.
Over 300 individual international students, most of whom were already in Vancouver, had registered for English classes through the school board at a total revenue of about $360,000 for the district. Another 285 students arriving in groups from other countries were supposed to come to the city for English programs, bringing in another $405,000 for the district.
Surrey, which made $4 million in cuts to balance their 2014/15 budget, will lose about $100,000 in revenue from 127 international students that intended to take summer courses with the district. The district told The Tyee international students were informed of the cancellations at least two weeks ago.
All districts cancelling summer school will also lose out on the time and work invested by teachers and district staff to prepare summer school programs. That brings Surrey's total losses to a few hundred thousands and Vancouver's close to $1 million.
"We have a half-billion-dollar budget," said Kurt Heinrich, spokesperson for the Vancouver School District, comparing the loss to the total district budget. But boards are legally required to balance their budgets every year, and that means cutting programs and positions to make ends meet.
In Vancouver, which reported an $11.65-million budget shortfall in April, the loss of even tens of thousands of dollars would make a big difference to what the district can provide, he said.
Districts lose international student revenue
One hundred of the international students enrolled in Vancouver's summer school program have been transferred to Langara College's summer English Language Learner program at no extra cost to the students. Langara already has a similar program for university students. A spokesperson said the four groups of high school students coming from Japan and China were already assigned to homestays through the institution.
"You can imagine that these groups had been planning years in advance, so we were very happy that their students were still able to come to Canada," said Valerie Peters, manager of international education at Langara.
Heinrich said most of the teachers and administrators who were supposed to work in the summer school program have permanent contracts with the district, meaning they won't be without a salary this summer, although teachers' pay continues to be docked 10 per cent as part of the ongoing partial lockout. It's the same for the majority of the custodial staff that do maintenance work and minor renovations in the summer.
But he was unable to say if support workers, like education assistants, that would normally work at summer school have permanent contracts with the district.
If the teachers decide to picket schools all summer despite the cancellation of summer school, however, Heinrich said it could prevent CUPE workers from doing routine building maintenance or outside contractors from working on seismic upgrading.
The Tyee contacted the BC Teachers' Federation to find out picketing plans over the summer, but has yet to hear back. The only schools teachers are forbidden from picketing are the five year-round elementary schools in the province.
Few students meet essential services designation
The Vancouver School District announced the cancellation of its summer school program yesterday, stating that out of the approximately 1,000 students recommended for remedial courses in Grades 8 to 12, every student could take the required course at another time.
The district's Continuing Education program and the online Vancouver Learning Network courses are also cancelled for the summer because of possible picketing outside of John Oliver Secondary School where both are based.
According to Burnaby News Leader, the Burnaby School District had 58 students that fit the essential services designation, but still decided to cancel their summer school program. The district told Burnaby News Leader it would make arrangements for the students to take the courses at another Metro Vancouver district. The Tyee Solutions Society contacted the district for further comment but has yet to hear back.
The Surrey School District announced today it would carry out remedial summer school for 47 students using administrators as teachers, less than one per cent of the 11,000 students in from Kindergarten to Grade 12 that signed up for the summer school in the district.
"We have reached out and contacted each of the students directly and will be offering programs for them according to the [Labour Relations Board] Order. We will once again rely upon the commitment of our principals and vice- principals to lead the learning and provide the required support to ensure that students graduate this summer," reads a statement from Surrey Superintendent Jordan Tinney posted to the district website.