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.”

Published in Catholic Education

TORONTO - In an effort to be facilitate local bargaining procedures, avoid potential strikes and remain responsible to younger teachers, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) signed a tentative two-year deal with the province earlier this month, a deal that has angered their public school counterparts.

"This framework will now constitute each and every collective agreement within the province. They'll go through the local bargaining process to go ahead and address that," said Kevin O'Dwyer, OECTA's provincial executive. "It tries to be pretty responsible to the younger teachers."

Published in Education

The Ontario government’s so-called anti-bullying legislation, Bill-13, is a failure of lawmaking.

It mocks religious freedom and disrespects parental rights. It undermines the authority of elected trustees and school principals by giving veto power to children and teens with respect to some after-school clubs. It awards special status to certain types of bullying rather than uniformly attacking bullying in all its forms.

Published in Editorial

TORONTO - Despite concerns expressed by Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) says it supports students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances (GSA) in Catholic schools.

In a May 29 news release, OECTA president Kevin O’Dwyer said, “Providing safe, inclusive environments and eliminating bullying wherever we can is paramount. If the students feel that a club should be called a GSA — that it makes a difference to them — then, we respect and accept that choice.”

Published in Education

Cuts, freezes and protections for education introduced in the 2012 Ontario provincial budget are not sitting well with some of the province’s partners in education.

While the province has chosen to protect small class sizes, full-day kindergarten and almost 20,000 teaching and support staff jobs in its austerity budget presented March 27, the government is also calling for the closure of under-utilized schools and potential board amalgamations to maximize resources.

Nancy Kirby, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association president, acknowledges the importance of early childhood education, but said going “ahead with full-day kindergarten on the same timeline ... is an expensive decision.”

Published in Education

Premier Dalton McGuinty’s public call for the province’s teachers to “do their part” in helping slay Ontario’s deficit will only harm the bargaining process, says the head of the Catholic teachers’ union.  

In a recent YouTube video appearance, McGuinty asked Ontario teachers to accept a two-year wage freeze and a modified sick-leave plan in an effort to reduce the $16 billion provincial deficit in a way that preserves small class sizes and all-day kindergarten.

Published in Education

TORONTO - Full-day kindergarten may be off limits to the Drummond chainsaw, but Ontario’s Catholic schools are still bracing for a lean season.

The Drummond Commission On the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services was commissioned by Premier Dalton McGuinty and released Feb. 15. In it, TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond recommends dozens of cuts to education funding. That’s never good news for Catholic schools, said Paul Whitehead, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association senior policy advisor for finance. Less money means less flexibility for school boards.

Published in Education

TORONTO - The union representing 45,000 Ontario Catholic teachers has no objection to gay-straight alliances operating in Catholic schools. The Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association says GSA format as developed in the United States is in conflict with Catholic teaching, and that anti-homophobia clubs in Catholic schools should be called Respecting Difference.

Both sides say there is no conflict between these two positions.

"There's really no difference between OECTA's stance and our stance on serving the needs of all of our students, including those with same-sex attraction or gender-identity issues," said OCSTA president Nancy Kirby.

Published in Education
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