Northern Manitoba’s public school division is offering major incentives to new recruits in a desperate bid to attract more teachers for 2023-24 and avoid a repeat of severe staffing shortages.

The Frontier School Division and Frontier Teachers’ Association have signed two unprecedented agreements amidst hiring season across the education sector.

Frontier is offering “new graduates” — any teacher who has attained a bachelor of education degree in the 2021 calendar year or later — a $10,000 payment after every school year they work for the division, for up to three consecutive years.

Senior administration and the union have also agreed to work around both Manitoba’s teacher certification protocols and the local collective agreement to bolster salary offers for educators from other provinces and countries.

“We felt that we needed to do something that was fairly bold in attracting new graduates (and teachers who have trained or worked outside Manitoba),” said chief superintendent Reg Klassen. “And that’s what we’ve done.”

Out-of-province teachers are currently at the mercy of Manitoba’s strict laws on valid teaching experience and corresponding wage tiers. Among its firm rules, the province only recognizes training at approved schools outside Manitoba if they are “supported by public funds.”

Per one new memorandum of agreement, Klassen said his division is pledging to at least match a certified teacher’s previous pay, regardless of what tier the province offers them, to address a longstanding revolving door of employees who were trained in another jurisdiction.

The division’s latest plans also target early-career educators because half of its employees are aged 50 and over, Klassen said, adding the new documents are necessary to confront chronic labour shortages that spiralled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Late last summer, before the current school year got underway, Frontier was short 46 teachers. Twenty job openings remain as the days on the 2022-23 calendar become numbered.

The division, which employs roughly 600 teachers, has been relying on non-certified instructors, limited teaching permits and a single qualified educator to look after multiple classes.

“Some students have gone all year without a certified teacher in their classroom,” said Linda Ballantyne, chair of the board of trustees. “We get the best people we can in our community to go in there and then we provide supports to them from the other staff in the school, but it doesn’t replace a certified teacher.”

Ballantyne, a trustee from Misipawistik Cree Nation, said parents have expressed concerns about the quality of their children’s education and extracurriculars have been lacking due to limited staff rosters.

The unfilled positions are adding “a lot more stress” on employees managing larger-than-usual class sizes and being asked to cover gaps however possible, said Aaron Cable, president of the local teachers’ union.

Throughout his 15-year career with Frontier, Cable has been aware of the challenges that come with recruitment every year. The issue has escalated because of what appears to be young people’s reluctance to move away from cities and try northern living for a handful of years to strengthen their resumés, he said.

The largest geographical district in the province, Frontier encompasses remote schools stretching from Churchill in the north to Falcon Lake in the south. Its easternmost classrooms are in Red Sucker Lake. Barrows, situated near the Saskatchewan border, is home to its facility furthest to the west.

As a result of its sprawling and northern nature, the division has numerous operational quirks that work both for and against its recruitment team.

Frontier oversees about 350 so-called “teacherages” — in addition to the education of roughly 10,000 students between 30 traditional public schools and 10 on-reserve schools. It provides employee housing and covers the cost of trips in and out of remote communities to attract talent.

This time last year, the division began offering $5,000 signing bonuses to up the ante. Before that, it brought on a designated international recruiter in November 2021 to travel to job fairs across the globe and attract applicants.

“I chose to go North to work because it’s just a beautiful country. If you love the outdoors and you love fishing, why wouldn’t you take advantage?” said Cable, who works at Frontier Collegiate.

The experienced educator is originally from Hudson Bay, Sask., a three-hour drive from his current residence in Cranberry Portage.

Not only does he cherish the familiarity of rural living, but also “the Frontier family” — the intimate nature of the division’s operations and the close ties teachers build with community members both inside and outside school hours.

Frontier’s new hiring incentives are estimated to cost $500,000 annually.

The money is coming from reductions in travel budgets, which will result in fewer students participating in school trips, and a shift to virtual professional development sessions, according to the division’s leader.

By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 15, 2023 at 22:09

This item reprinted with permission from   Free Press   Winnipeg, Manitoba
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