Student loan help? Higher wages? What will lure more teachers to B.C.?

The B.C. Teachers' Federation says it's time to look at bigger incentives — student loan forgiveness programs for new teachers, help with moving expenses or higher starting salaries for example — in order to fill the classrooms with qualified teachers.

Time to look at bigger incentives to bring recruits from across the country, says BCTF

With the start of the school year just over a week away, many B.C. districts still need to hire more teachers. (CBC)

The B.C. Teachers' Federation says it's time to look at bigger incentives, such as student loan forgiveness programs for new teachers, help with moving expenses or higher starting salaries, in order to fill classrooms with qualified teachers. 

It's now just over a week until schools open their doors again and many districts are still trying to hire enough people. 

In Surrey, district spokesperson Doug Strachan says around 110 teachers are still needed. He's confident, though, that every class will have a teacher in front of it when school begins in September. 

"There might be a few positions for teachers such as teacher-psychologists, those that don't have a classroom but support the schools. We may still be hiring a few of those when the school year starts, but all school classes will be underway as normal," Strachan said.

This year's demand for teachers was created in large part by the Supreme Court of Canada decision this spring that restored smaller class sizes.

Strachan says Surrey hasn't needed to resort to incentives to attract applicants because, he says, it is a large district with varied opportunities and is more affordable than its western neighbours. 

But other districts are finding themselves almost desperate to attract employees. 

Northern challenges

For example, Peace River South:

"Sometimes we're afraid to open up our emails in anticipation it might be another resignation letter," Christy Fennell, the director of instruction for Peace River South, told CBC's Daybreak North on Monday.

Fennell says the district had almost filled all the empty teaching slots earlier this summer, but a number of recent hires resigned to take jobs in the Lower Mainland. 

As of this morning, it still needed nine full-time and six part-time teachers.

The B.C. Teachers' Federation says there are actions that could be taken now to add extra enticements to draw out-of-province recruits. (CBC)

She anticipates the district will have to rely on retired teachers to help welcome students next week while they continue hunting for more permanent solutions.

"I don't like to use the word volatile, but it seems a bit like that," she added.

Fennell says her district already pays moving allowances for new hires and this year it is offering a $1,000 signing bonus. 

"But that's still not getting people here," she said.

Financial challenges

Ontario teacher Maggie Hicks is one of those potential recruits. 

Ontario teacher Maggie Hicks graduated in 2016. She is considering a move to B.C. as she says full-time teaching jobs are hard to find in her home province. (Skype/CBC)

Hicks graduated with her teaching degree in 2016.

She told CBC last week she was considering B.C. because full-time jobs are hard to come by in her home province, but she has doubts about the move because of the finances. 

"The cost of living out there is quite high and I have also heard the pay is less than it is in Ontario. And I am just a bit hesitant to pack up and leave," said Hicks.

That's why the B.C. Teachers' Federation believes in order to attract new teachers, financial incentives need to be bigger.

Affordability incentives

"It's a challenge trying to attract enough people to come to British Columbia when the salaries for starting teachers ... are the lowest in Canada, affordability is among the worst in Canada and also it's very hard to find any place to rent or to live," said BCTF president Glen Hansman. 

Hansman says the BCTF was in talks with the province and the B.C. Public School Employers' Association to try and find ways to attract recruits like Hicks, but that stalled with the political instability after the May election. 

He believes there are actions that could be taken immediately.

"If they wanted to look at shortening the salary grid, getting rid of those bottom steps, so that the beginning salaries were more competitive, we'd be happy to sign a mid-contract modification right now to do that. If they wanted to set up a student loan forgiveness program, they could proceed with doing that without us needing to formalize anything," he said.

The B.C. Public School Employers' Association says those kinds of issues will be high on the agenda when a joint committee on teacher compensation meets this fall. 

"It's definitely a high priority for both parties to have really good discussions about these issues," said chief administrative officer Janet Stewart.

But Stewart also says short term initiatives that were put in place are making a difference.

The Ministry of Education created a $2-million fund earlier this year to help rural areas with attracting and keeping teachers. In a statement, the ministry says $1.5 million is going to things like moving allowances, housing supports and training. 

As for the suggestion of changing pay grades, both the ministry and Stewart say that is an issue for the bargaining table.