British Columbia

Nearly 200 teachers laid off in Coquitlam as COVID-19 forces international enrolment drop

School districts across the Lower Mainland expect to lose millions of dollars in funding as international student enrolment drops.

School districts expect to lose millions of dollars in funding

Como Lake Middle School in Coquitlam, British Columbia on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

School districts across the Lower Mainland expect to lose millions of dollars in operating revenues thanks to a decline in international student enrolment amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Coquitlam, the shortfall means 193 teachers will be laid off at the end of the school year, according to the Coquitlam Teachers Association (CTA). Revenues from international student fees account for about $36 million of the school's typical $400 million budget.

CTA president Ken Christensen says international student fees have helped prop up the district's budget over the past few years, as it grappled with declining enrolment overall.

"With the COVID-19 situation and international travel restrictions, it's looking a little bleak for that revenue stream for the upcoming school year, and as a result, the layoff had to be contemplated for some of our teachers to bring the budget into balance," Christensen told CBC News.

The layoffs apply to teachers who have three years of experience or less. Christensen says they have already been issued notices.

Winslow Centre Campus in Coquitlam, British Columbia on Wednesday, May 13, 2020. A decline in international student enrolment is expected to have a major financial impact on the district. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"None of these teachers will have experienced layoffs before. It's their first time, and so there's a lot of fear and a lot of anxiety that comes about as a result of something like that," said Christensen.

In a statement, the district said it's the first time in three years it's had to issue layoffs. It expects most of the teachers will be called back by the fall.

"These layoffs are temporary and it is expected we will begin recalling the vast majority of our teachers back into positions by September," said a spokesperson.

Other districts are also grappling with the sudden drop in funding. The Surrey School District expects 300 fewer international students next year, amounting to a $3.9 million loss in revenue, according to spokesperson Ritinder Matthew.

The district still anticipates it will need to recruit more teachers, since it's one of the fastest growing districts in the province, adding about 1,000 new students each year.

In Richmond, international student fees account for nearly nine per cent of the operating budget, or about $20 million. The district said it's too early to tell exactly how much of that will be lost by the fall.

The Vancouver School Board says it expects to lose about a third of its international students for the upcoming school year.

Districts generally receive about $15,000 in revenue per international student. In 2017, there were about 20,000 international students enrolled throughout B.C.'s K-12 system.

Premier John Horgan said he expects there to be more job openings for teachers in the long-term, despite the pandemic. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

'Premature,' says premier

B.C. teachers recently ratified a new collective agreement with the province, and on Wednesday, Premier John Horgan said he expects there to be more job openings for teachers in the long-term, despite the pandemic.

"Challenges about international students are very real, but I think it's premature to talk about the impact of what that might mean here in May when we're talking about the school year in September," he said.

The province will unveil further details on its public education plan on Friday.

Home stays take a hit

Home-stay operators say they're already seeing a swath of cancellations for international students who were planning to come to B.C.

"We have students who are interested in coming, but nobody is sure what's going to happen with the border or second waves — there are so many unknowns," said Amanda Carrasco, owner of Harmony Homestay.

Carrasco's company facilitates hundreds of international student housing placements each year and was on track for its busiest season yet prior to the pandemic. Carrasco has also had to lay off the bulk of her staff.

Families that house international students will also take a financial hit. Families are paid about $900 per month.

"It will have an impact on our host families who aren't going to be having that income coming in, and maybe on top of that, they're losing work too," said Carrasco.

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