Politicians at Queen’s Park in Toronto are facing tough negotiations with teachers for a new collective agreement. Catholic teachers plan to hold a strike vote this month. Photo from Wikipedia

Students bracing for rough ride on the labour front

By  Kathleena Henricus, Youth Speak News
  • October 30, 2019

If the first month of the school year is any indication, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for education in Ontario for the foreseeable future.

Parents, teachers and students continue to express concern as labour disputes threaten the school year which has already been impacted by provincial budget cuts.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), representing both elementary and secondary teachers, plans to hold a strike vote this month as negotiations continue with the government to reach to new collective agreement. Last month, school closures were narrowly averted when the province reached a deal with about 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

One optimistic note on the scene came Oct. 24 when Minister of Education Stephen Lecce announced that the plan to increase class sizes in high schools over the next four years has been scaled back from 28 to 25.

He called it a “pretty significant” development and said there might be room for further concessions.

“It is an offer — it’s not the offer, it’s not the final offer,” he said, according to the Toronto Star. “It’s part of the fluidity of this process.”

Lecce said the proposal followed input from parents and educators, but it was not well received by teacher unions. 

“Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has once again demonstrated complete misunderstanding of how publicly funded education works in Ontario, disregard for the collective bargaining process, and disrespect for Ontarians,” said OECTA president Liz Stuart. A class size average of 25 students in secondary schools would still be a significant increase over what was in place last school year, she said. The result would still be the elimination of thousands of teaching positions and course options, overcrowded classrooms and “deteriorating learning conditions,” she said.

Stuart said teachers have been advocating for further investments in education to ensure all students have the opportunity to realize their full potential. 

“It is absurd and insulting for Minister Lecce to expect gratitude for offering to increase class sizes by a lower number than originally proposed,” said Stuart.

The government has indicated a desire to hold the teachers’ pay increases to one per cent. The teachers want an increase that matches the cost of living, about two per cent. The difference in the two positions comes to about $700 million annually.

Lecce said the government has taken a reasonable position and that the unions “have decided to continue their campaign to escalate towards disruption” that could lead to a strike.

Stuart said the government has been making reckless cuts to Ontario’s publicly funded education system.

“It is clear the government’s actions, such as increasing class sizes and removing vital resources and supports for our most vulnerable students, are not being taken with the needs of students, teachers and parents in mind,” said Stuart.

“We know investments in publicly-funded education allow teachers to create positive learning environments that encourage student achievement. Instead, the Ford Conservative government is jeopardizing students’ future.”

Students appear to agree as they filled the streets surrounding their high schools in April when the government rolled out its proposed changes in an effort to shrink Ontario’s deficit. The plans included increasing class sizes, a move which the government said would mean 3,475 fewer teachers. The government claims the reduction would be accomplished by not replacing teachers who quit or retire.

The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario, a government watchdog, said Ontario will have 10,000 fewer teaching positions over the next five years because of the changes in class sizes and making students take courses online. 

(Henricus, 16, is a vocal major in Grade 11 at Cawthra Park Secondary in Mississauga, Ont.)

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