Whitehorse Elementary parents angry at new teacher staffing formula

Overcrowded classrooms can be a problem. Just ask the 75 parents who crammed themselves into a Whitehorse Elementary classroom on Monday night.

Overcrowded classrooms can be a problem.

Just ask the 75 parents who crammed themselves into a Whitehorse Elementary classroom on Monday night.

As a result of the new teacher staffing allocation formula, Whitehorse Elementary will be losing one teacher.

This means the Grade 2 and 3 classes will have up to 23 students, the maximum the territory allows for primary classes.

“The Yukon government has about $70 million in the bank; they say they’re running a surplus and there’s more than 700 new government jobs in the Yukon since 2004,” said school council member Keith Halliday.

“Yet somehow the Department of Education has decided that this is a good time to cut one (full-time equivalent) from this school.”

The school council and assembled parents said the new staffing formula isn’t equitable and discriminates against large schools.

And most other schools receive additional teaching staff to teach French as a second language.

Emilie-Tremblay also receives additional staff to teach a second language – in its case, English – and is receiving 2.35 additional staff under the new formula.

Whitehorse Elementary, which offers French immersion, doesn’t receive this extra staffing.

“Everyone else gets a teacher to learn a second language,” said Elaine Carlyle, a parent. “It would be very easy for the minister to fix this by giving us a teacher from the unallocated pools.”

But delve into the formula even a little bit and you’ll soon realize that nothing is really easy.

The document is made up of 22 eye-crossing lists of fractions spread across 30 schools and two other categories, including one tagged contingency.

The new formula left 5.86 teachers as contingency, to be used in case of unexpected enrolment changes come fall.

Whitehorse Elementary wants one of those teachers.

The department is resisting that demand.

Other schools are not getting extra staffing for French as a second language, according to Education’s assistant deputy minister Christie Whitley.

Which raises the issue of prep time.

Schools are supposed to staff French programs out of their prep time – additional staffing provided on top of what is needed for each classroom. It is calculated based on school populations.

“If I remember correctly, I think Whitehorse Elementary got extra prep time,” said Whitley.

Which is true. Whitehorse Elementary got 2.68 teachers’ worth of prep time for its 424 students. And that was more prep time than any other elementary school.

By comparison, Elijah Smith Elementary, which has 327 students, got just 1.30 teachers’

worth of prep time. Christ the King, with 302 students, got 1.16 teachers.

However, Whitehorse Elementary received one additional teacher to help it transition into the new program. Elijah Smith is getting three.

Takhini Elementary is receiving an additional 1.5 teachers to help it transition to the new formula, but is still being hit the hardest, losing 3.1 teachers.

So, the calculus is anything but basic. But Whitehorse Elementary is trailing Elijah Smith by about .62. It’s farther behind once you add in Elijah Smith’s French as a second language teacher allocation of 0.84.

For a formula designed for transparency, it’s far from clear.

The reason for the high classroom numbers in the primary grades at Whitehorse Elementary is because of a new direction being taken by Helene Saint Onge, the school’s principal.

“The new principal at Whitehorse Elementary has very clearly identified that she wants to do business somewhat differently,” said Whitley.

“This year, the principal has decided to increase the learning-assistance component and to also increase her counseling.”

The territory created the new staffing formula in response to last year’s auditor general’s report.

The report pointed out the old formula, which had been in use since 1987, wasn’t fair or credible.

It wasn’t transparent – many school councillors, principals and teachers didn’t know how the formula worked.

It wasn’t fiscally viable or sustainable and wasn’t good at organizing for changing demographics and declining enrolment numbers.

The new formula was created by a multi-party advisory committee with representatives from the Department of Education, Yukon Teachers’ Association, Association of Yukon School Administrators, area superintendents, members of four school councils and the Catholic Education Association of the Yukon.

Whitehorse Elementary’s school council has complained it wasn’t involved in this process and there was no representative for French immersion schools.

“Anybody from the Whitehorse Elementary school council could have participated as a member of the community,” said Whitley.

“An invitation went out to all school councils.”

And Sandra Henderson, who represented the school council at FH Collins in the advisory committee, has been significantly involved in French second language programming.

Once the student numbers are crunched through the formula, principals are allowed to use staff however they’d like – as teachers, librarians or counsellors.

Saint Onge has chosen to develop a balanced literacy program at Whitehorse Elementary at the expense of slightly larger class sizes.

“We certainly feel, and the principal feels that there’s no problem putting these classrooms together,” said Whitley.

“The kids are going to get good programming and we certainly wouldn’t leave kids without staffing appropriately.”

The Whitehorse Elementary parents have already discussed this issue with Rouble, School superintendent Denis Gauthier and representatives from the Department of Education and not received satisfactory answers.

At Monday night’s meeting, the Whitehorse Elementary parents decided to take more aggressive action.

They launched a letter-writing campaign, which will include a picture of each child so that Minister Patrick Rouble can “see who (his) decision is affecting.”

They are also planning a strategic telephone campaign, with a different parent calling the minister every five minutes.

If that doesn’t work, they have Premier Dennis Fentie’s number as well.

Contact Chris Oke at