Liz Sandals addresses Catholic school trustees Photo by Vanessa Santilli

Education minister says she will always defend Ontario's Catholic schools

  • May 5, 2013

TORONTO - If the Ontario Liberal government falls over its provincial budget, Education Minister Liz Sandals "will be back on the street knocking on doors and defending the Catholic education system again," she told an audience of about 200 Catholic school trustees.

Sandals was the guest speaker at the Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association 83rd annual general meeting and conference May 3.

Sandals described her defence of the Catholic education system during the 2007 provincial election where the Green Party in her riding of Guelph was touting the merits of one education system.

"Catholic boards have committed themselves wholeheartedly to improving student achievement and have been a key partner in the success of Ontario's education system," she said, adding that achieving the government's education priorities are dependent on the "most fragile things: a relationship, a partnership, a willingness for people to co-operate."

"The spirit of collaboration is alive and well again at the ministry of education and in our government," Sandals, a former public school trustee and president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association, told the audience.

"I recognize that the board involvement in the last round of the provincial discussion table was not what you wanted," she said, referring to the unilaterally imposed memorandum of understanding signed last year regarding the Putting Students First Act which will require Catholic boards to operate by more restrictive policies than the province's public boards.

"That's why we are having a discussion about a new legislative model for collective bargaining. We need a structure that includes the board as the employer, the government as the funder and unions representing the worker. We need to find a structure that is legally binding on all of us and I get that."

She said the provincial government will be having a more formal consultation later in the spring to figure out what that new model will look like.

Marino Gazzola, president of the OCSTA, was pleased to hear these sentiments.

"I think her commitment moving forward that we will be involved speaks volumes," he said. "It lets us know that things are changing and that things are going to be different. We appreciate that."

For Phillip Squire, chair of the London District Catholic School Board, he was seeking assurance from the minister that "respect for trustees will include the recognition of the role of trustees as elected officials and the appropriate and proper employer of teachers and our support staff." Sandals responded by affirming the need for a legislative model where it is clear what everybody's role is.

She also spoke about the groups for whom the government knows they need to do more to address their needs, including aboriginal students and crown wards.

"We're now working with every single school board in the province on self-identification of First Nations and Métis students because if you can't figure out who the First Nations and Métis students are, we can't figure out how they're doing," she said, adding that the government will soon be revealing baseline data on First Nations and Métis achievement in schools.

Sandals also mentioned that overall graduation rates have increased 15 per cent since the ministry began tracking the statistics in the 2003-04 school year.

"That means over 115,000 students graduated who would not otherwise have graduated," she said, applauding the work of Catholic schools in helping to achieve this.

(Santilli is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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