The union representing public high school teachers is taking its battle with the Ford government to the airwaves with a new TV ad blaming the Progressive Conservatives for forcing school boards to cut back on teachers and curtail courses.
Shot in black and white, the 30-second commercial from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation features still photographs of empty school hallways and classrooms, warns the changes will lead to lower graduation rates and urges viewers to “tell Doug Ford to stop the cuts.”
It began airing Monday for two weeks on CTV, Global, CBC and CP24 with Cantonese, Mandarin and Punjabi versions on ethnic television stations and a digital campaign on social media as the government and education unions continue negotiations for new contracts to replace agreements expiring Saturday.
“This is a time when we think the public will be paying attention,” said OSSTF president Harvey Bischof, who would not reveal how much the union spent to produce and broadcast the advertisement.
“Through the summer, people may drift off a bit into other activities but parents are especially activated now as they think of their kids going back to school.”
The ad debuted four days after Education Minister Stephen Lecce held a news conference in Scarborough to provide “reassurance” to parents that classes will be only slightly larger when school resumes next week.
At an average of 22.5 students in Grades 9 to 12, up from 22 in June, and one additional student in Grades 4 to 8, the numbers “remain effectively the same as last year,” Lecce maintained in an announcement widely criticized by education unions for downplaying teacher cuts, given that school boards have already laid off many teachers and pared course offerings.
With the government planning to raise average class sizes to 28 students over the next four years as it struggles to eliminate annual deficits, Lecce told school boards and unions he’s open to any “innovative ideas” in contract negotiations to keep the number from getting that high.
“We should not be dogmatic about this,” added Lecce, who was promoted to minister in a late June cabinet shuffle. He has noted there is a $1.6-billion fund for school boards so staffing reductions can be managed through teacher retirements and voluntary leaves.
Bischof said his union has already recommended changes to save money by making contract negotiations more streamlined. He warned larger class sizes will mean less attention for individual students and lower graduation rates, with fewer students going on to post-secondary education and skilled trades.
“It’s still the government’s intention to slash one out of every four high school teaching positions over the next four years and that’s the one that makes people sit up and take notice,” he said.
The government’s changes also include requiring students take more courses online, requiring fewer teachers.
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There is no change this fall in the number of children in junior and senior kindergarten, with an average of 26 students per class and a cap of 29.
In Grades 1 to 3, fully 90 per cent of classes are to have no more than 20 pupils, and 10 per cent of classes can have no more than 23 children, also unchanged from June.