A school board in Education Minister Lisa Thompson’s own riding says it will lose up to 50 secondary school teaching positions under the government’s plans for bigger classes, and that smaller schools will struggle to provide not only specialized classes but “even the core curriculum required to graduate.”
Joining a number of others that have sent letters of concern, the Bluewater District School Board — which encompasses the ridings of two PC cabinet ministers, Thompson’s Huron-Bruce and Bill Walker’s Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound — wrote Friday about wanting to “work together to find solutions that mitigate significant negative impacts on our students and local rural education.”
“Our main area of concern is the proposed change to class sizes, particularly at the secondary level,” says the letter, signed by chair Jan Johnstone and vice-chair Jane Thomson.
“Your proposed increase in secondary class size numbers will result in a reduction of approximately 40 to 50 full-time-equivalent teaching staff positions within our board. It would be equivalent to closing two of our nine secondary schools.”
Such a move “would amount to a substantial loss in both teaching and programming support for our students, and the inability of our small high schools to provide specialized course options, and even the core curriculum required to graduate,” they wrote.
In a statement to the Star on Friday, Thompson said “our government is committed to protecting what matters most and that includes our education system.”
The education minister said her “number-one goal will always be to ensure student achievement and I look forward to working with Bluewater District School Board, and all school boards, as we move forward with our plan, Education That Works for You.”
The PC plan includes a focus on math training for teachers, better science/technology/engineering and math programming for students, as well as a revamp of the sex education curriculum and introducing four mandatory online learning credits for teens.
The government has come under fire for increasing class sizes by an average of one student from grades 4 through 8, and an average of six students — from 22 to 28 — in high schools, with boards saying they won’t be able to offer the breadth of courses they do now.
The province has estimated almost 3,500 teaching positions will be phased out over the next four years by the boost in class sizes, though estimates from unions, advocacy groups and boards themselves suggest that number will be much higher.
The Bluewater board is a small, mostly rural board that runs through Bruce and Grey counties, covering 8,673 square kilometres. It has 16,000 students in 48 schools.
While pleased to hear about the government’s “renewed focus in areas such as STEM, the skilled trades, as well as financial and digital literacy,” with the loss of so many teaching positions over four years through attrition, the board is “concerned that it will become increasingly difficult for us to replace teachers who retire with qualifications and experience in specialized areas.”
The board is asking Thompson to “reconsider the recent proposals and funding cuts, and consult with your education partners in a meaningful way to ensure the new vision for education matches what is best for ALL students.”
Halton District School Board chair Andréa Grebenc warned in her letter last Tuesday that classes there could grow to 36 — or even 46 — students, to offset much smaller classes of 10 or 20 students, such as tech classes or those for teens with high needs.
She said the bigger classes will likely be core credits, such as math, English, history and geography.
In the legislature, Thompson has said “when it comes to school boards across the province, we want to work with our education partners” and said consultations will continue until the end of May.
Thompson has also said that “even with the changes we announced, (that) we’re looking at in our plan, we’re still one of the lowest class sizes across Canada.”
Durham District School Board chair Michael Barrett has said its “smaller, rural and inner-city schools are significantly impacted (e.g., the physics or math teacher retires and you cannot replace them) … With limited course options, such as the trades, this puts students with special needs who often take these courses at risk of not obtaining enough credits for graduation.”
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy