Teachers' federation head pledges support for Catholic schools

  • September 21, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Newly elected Ontario Teachers’ Federation president Reno Melatti says he remembers the days when Catholics had to fight for publicly funded education.

Preserving public Catholic schools today and in the future, he said, is a matter of equality and part of Ontario’s history.

Melatti, who became the 66th president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation on Sept. 2, is a graduate of and former teacher at Ontario Catholic schools. From his own experience, he said he learned about the positive impact and value of Catholic education.

Melatti, 62, was a student before 1984 when Premier Bill Davis announced the province would extend full funding to public Catholic schools to the end of high school. A series of court decisions ruled that excluding funding to Catholic schools violated terms of the 1867 British North America Act. In 1986, the Liberal government of David Petersen implemented full funding to public Catholic schools.

At Toronto’s De La Salle College, Melatti said he was taught about citizenship and teaching “by example.” It’s a lesson that has carried over in his career.

“When you walk in that classroom, every student is a potential genius. Don’t miss the opportunity to create that spark that will engender them for self-respect because you are teaching the future of our society,” Melatti said.

Years later, as a teacher, he recalls supporting the late Cardinal Gerald Emmett Carter, who was bishop of the London diocese at the time and a key player in advocating for publicly funded Catholic education.

“Catholic education has been there from day one in our history and to say that one (public system) overrides the other is unjust,” he said. “It’s unfair.”

But the debate on extending public funds to Catholic schools continues today. In the 2007 provincial election, Conservative leader John Tory’s promise to fund all faith-based schools ignited a debate about funding Catholic schools, with some voters calling for only one public system. Analysts attributed Tory’s defeat to his promise. 

Melatti said he continues to believe in the importance of preserving funding for the public Catholic school system, although he said his role as OTF president is not to defend a particular system over another.

“We have a great publicly funded education system in Ontario,” he said. “We need to keep it that way and to do anything else would be a total detriment to our future as citizens.”

Meanwhile, during his term as president, he said his key priorities will be to advocate for qualified teachers to deliver the provincial government’s proposed full day kindergarten programs and work with the government on school safety.

Melatti attended private Catholic elementary and high schools in Toronto. He completed his undergraduate studies in history and politics and his teaching degree at the University of Windsor. In 1972, he was hired to teach at the Essex County Separate School Board and worked as an elementary school teacher for 15 years.

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