Catholic principals slam minister over Ontario budget call to freeze wages

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • April 28, 2010
CPCO logoWINDSOR, Ont. - Ontario Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky was taken to task by Catholic principals and vice principals here over her government’s recent budget bill which could hit them in the wallet.

Bill 16 proposes that non-bargaining employees across the public sector — about 350,000 employees altogether — have their wages frozen for two years as part of an austerity move by the province to cope with a severe deficit.

Dombrowsky was speaking before more than 300 delegates at the annual meeting of the the Catholic Principals’ Council of Ontario in Windsor April 22.

After listing measures that she said demonstrated her government’s ongoing “commitment” to education, such as new anti-bullying legislation and full-day early learning beginning in kindergarten this fall, the minister made a special plea to delegates to understand the government’s “significant” financial problem.

The wage proposal would impact principals and vice principals’ salaries since they are not part of a union. Teachers, by contrast, would not have their pay frozen.

“I understand and appreciate your concern about the proposed pay freeze and I want to be very clear that this is not a decision that we took lightly,” she said.

Dombrowksy also said funding to school boards “would not be reduced” as a result of the measure and that “any savings” should be used by boards “to meet key financial pressures.”

She said the freeze comes in the context of the severe economic downturn where “tens of thousands of people in the province of Ontario lost their jobs.”

But in a question-and-answer session after the speech, one delegate said such a freeze “flies in the face” of efforts by the province to encourage teachers to take “leadership” positions by becoming principals and vice principals. The questioner said if administrators’ salaries are frozen for two years but not teachers’ pay, some teachers “are going to be making more money” than vice principals, which would be a disincentive to move up the ranks.

Dombrowsky responded by saying some of the staff who work with her “make a lot more than I do,” which brought a few boos.

Another delegate said such a freeze also comes on the heels of generally increasing tasks on principals and vice principals “every single minute of every single day.”

“It’s a lot of work,” the minister responded, which drew some laughter.

“I was trying to be respectful,” she replied, noting there has been an increase in per student funding to provide schools with more resources.

Dombrowsky said the government is having ongoing meetings with school administrators “to clarify the potential impact of Bill 16.”

Principals' council president Paul Lacalamita said principals and vice principals should be exempt from the freeze because they do not bargain individually with their employer but have representatives negotiate on their behalf.

(Stang is a freelance writer in Windsor, Ont.)

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