Many Yukon students are back in class but there's chaos behind the scenes, says the president of the territory's teachers union.
Ted Hupe, president of the Yukon Teachers Association, said the cause is short-staffing at the education department's human resources branch. The result, Hupe said, is a delay in hiring new teachers and a shortage of substitutes. The ones who are being hired are getting verbal, instead of written offers, he added.
"I had a teacher who was told, 'Oh, you're not going to get paid until October because we're so far behind,'" he said. "That's ridiculous."
Hupe said there are currently 52 teachers on call, the bureaucratic term for substitutes. That number isn't unusual for the first week of school, but Hupe said he fears the lack of capacity at the education department means it will be slow to process applications from other would-be substitutes.
"Our system needs a healthy number of [substitutes] that support Yukon teachers and schools," he said. "Because we have to have that backup system. You can't leave a desk vacant, you have to have a teaching body, a human being in front of those students every single day."
Government disputes union's claims
Ryan Sikkes, the Yukon government's assistant deputy minister of schools and students support services, said there are 19 teacher vacancies across the territory, including nine in Whitehorse. Education departments across the country are having similar problems finding teachers, he said.
"There's lots we could speculate on in terms of the effect of COVID[-19] and the economy," he said. "So it's really hard to kind of put our finger exactly on why we haven't been receiving as many applicants from qualified people."
While Hupe said the government didn't start recruiting new teachers until August, Sikkes said that's not true. He said the recruiting process began, as in other years, in April. Sikkes also said the government has 88 teachers on call, not 52.
And Sikkes disputed Hupe's claims that a teacher wouldn't be paid until October because they received a verbal offer. Sikkes said such offers are standard practice.
"We do have pay cutoffs that if we miss those sometimes, unfortunately, a teacher has to wait a pay period before they get their first paycheck," he said "But October, I can't really think of a reason why someone hired for a job today would have to wait that long for their paycheck."