Not only are teachers upset with Ontario's Putting Students First Act, but Catholic trustees are seeking amendments that strip boards of managerial rights Photo by Michael Swan

Ontario's Catholic school trustees seek change to McGuinty's Putting Students First Act

By 
  • September 5, 2012

Ontario’s Catholic school trustees are pressing for changes to Dalton McGuinty’s Putting Students First Act and insisting that Catholic school boards should not be legally bound to new teacher contracts imposed by the government.

OCSTA officials will continue to push for amendments to the act to remove contentious clauses that strip school boards of important management rights pertaining to teacher hiring and student testing, said Bob Murray, OCSTA director of legislative and political affairs.

Under the proposed new law, Catholic boards will be required to operate by more restrictive policies than the province’s public boards. That inequality was created in late August when the government backtracked on Putting  Students First and returned to French and public boards the right to negotiate non-salary issues with their unions. But the same right was denied to Catholic boards.

The government had previously done a deal and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) directly with the union that represents Catholic teachers, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA). That deal was negotiated without input from Catholic trustees and their boards, and was allowed to stand after the government relented to opposition party demands to amend Putting Students First.

“While the union has signed, the boards themselves, as the legal employer, refused to sacrifice those rights (pertaining to hiring and testing) that are legally theirs,” Murray said. “So, for no reason should they be legally bound to an agreement they didn’t sign.”

Five Catholic boards had previously agreed to accept the terms negotiated between the government and OECTA and, said Murray, those boards are legally bound to honour the contract they signed. But OCSTA believes the other 24 Catholic boards should have the same negotiating rights as the public boards.

“We have these agreements that were not reached according to the legal collective bargaining process,” said Murray, adding that “labour relations rights of employers and employees have been violated.”

The trustees are concerned that granting teacher unions more input in hiring and a greater say in managing diagnostic testing will negatively impact the quality of education. In a statement, OCSTA expressed concern that decisions about education are being made for reasons of political expediency.

“These rights are important because of the impact they have on students and the quality of education delivery,” said Murray
OCSTA officials were to meet with Liberal and opposition party members to make their case for change.

“There will be opportunities for amendments to be put forward and our hope is that the opposition parties will continue to push very strongly to have these two issues fully removed from the legislation,” said Murray. “Our intention and our desire would be for the bill to be amended further to remove those two provisions to be bound to any board at this point.”
According to a government spokesman, a final vote on Putting Students First is not expected before Sept. 10.

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