Teachers voice their disapproval of the province’s Putting Students First Act at Queen’s Park Aug. 28. The province introduced the legislation the day before. Photo by Michael Swan

Catholic trustees bound to earlier deal, not new legislation

By 
  • August 29, 2012

TORONTO - The devil is in the details as far as Catholic school boards are concerned when it comes to side-stepping strikes and lockouts.

The Putting Students First Act, the Liberal government’s legislation to freeze teacher salaries, will require Catholic schools to operate by a different, more restrictive, set of rules than the province’s public boards. And that has the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) up in arms.

Catholic boards will continue to be bound by the deal struck in July between the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and the Ministry of Education, even though the government legislation has backtracked on some key provisions contained in that agreement.

To get the Conservatives on side with Putting Students First, Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals had to remove controversial clauses that would have stripped school boards of some rights related to the hiring of permanent teachers and managerial oversight of diagnostic testing. Public boards will now be able to negotiate locally with teachers on those contentious issues, while the trustees from Ontario’s 29 Catholic boards are stuck with the deal the government negotiated with OECTA.

“The effect of these changes are in fact no change at all,” said Bob Murray, the OCSTA’s director of legislative and political affairs. “It’s subverting the role of trustees.”

The OECTA deal leaves virtually no room for local collective bargaining because all the substantive issues were settled without input from the province’s trustees.

“Under the proposed legislation no local collective bargaining will happen,” Murray said. “It’s an agreement that local trustees never agreed to.”

On July 4, following six months of unsuccessful bargaining, the Catholic trustees walked away from the table. That left the government and OECTA to strike a deal that imposed a two-year wage freeze, a reduction in sick days from 20 to 10, and elimination of the right to bank sick days until retirement. But the deal also gave the union greater input in hiring permanent teachers and some control over diagnostic testing.

“We said from the beginning that Ontario has a problem fiscally and something had to be done and we were willing to help out,” said Marino Gazzola, president of OCSTA.

“I think our concerns are the same now as they were before any proposed changes.”

He said that in negotiations with the government, OCSTA has consistently opposed ceding rights to the union on the issues of hiring and diagnostic testing. He said it’s not for him to say if the Liberals finally changed their position due to pressure from the Conservatives.

“If I had the answer to that I would probably be a millionaire,” he said. “We’ve been voicing these concerns all along and we’ve been firm in our position and we’ve been strong and consistent in our position.”

Those concerns were that provisions surrounding the hiring practices and diagnostic testing removed managerial rights and significant checks and balances from the boards. Under the changes, the trustees believe hiring now gives seniority greater weight than overall qualification, while granting teachers control of diagnostic testing gives them the ability to hide under-performing students.

“All students in Ontario should be able to receive an education from the most qualified teachers and benefit from the insight gained from the use of system-wide diagnostic tests that include parents,” said Gazzola. “School boards in this province have serious concerns about the proposed legislation.”

OCSTA was surprised to learn that the amendments to Putting Students First would not apply to the Catholic boards. They are now calling for additional revisions to essentially veto the controversial areas of the OECTA agreement so that Catholic boards have the same ability as public boards to negotiate locally with teacher unions.

“This legislation will create inequity in our system,” said Gazzola. “We urgently call on your government to amend the legislation to honestly reflect the changes proposed by the opposition.”

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