The province’s Catholic teachers return to the bargaining table in the new year — with new clout given they are now in a legal strike position.
But Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said despite that “our goal continues to be to negotiate an agreement at the bargaining table … we urge the government to consider the consequences their cuts are already having on students across Ontario, and to reflect on how they can come back to the table with a serious agenda to reach a fair agreement and keep our schools among the best in the world.”
Talks resume between OECTA, and the province and school boards on Jan. 9 and 10.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Friday the Ford government is “firmly committed to a resolution that keeps students in class. We will continue to be constructive and put our students first.”
He again urged the unions not to turn to strikes — the province’s public high school teachers have so far held three one-day walkouts — saying in a statement to the Star that “parents have been clear: strikes by unions hurt kids and that investments should go to support student success, not towards enhanced compensation. We will continue to champion the interests of students and seek stability for parents in 2020, who are frustrated and tired of the union-led escalation that began in 2019.”
Teachers in the province’s 12 French-language boards also have bargaining dates set for January — five days between Jan. 14 and 30. Some 97 per cent of members of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens recently voted in favour of strike action.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario do not yet have any dates scheduled for negotiations, though both say they expect some next month.
“We look forward to returning to the bargaining table in the new year as suggested by the mediator,” said Harvey Bischof, president of the secondary teachers’ union.
“We hope that, by then, the Ford government has reconsidered its plan to erode the quality of education through the slashing of teachers and education workers, elimination of class size caps, and forcing students into an untried e-learning experiment.”
A newly appointed provincial mediator called off talks between the high school teachers and the provincial government before the holidays saying the sides were too far apart. Key issues are the government’s move to boost average class sizes from last year’s 22 to 25 — down from its original plan to go to 28 over the next four years — and do away with local, class-size caps.
The province also wants to mandate two online courses in order for teens to graduate, which would be an anomaly in North America. Currently, a handful of U.S. states such as Alabama and Florida require just one online course or strongly encourage students to take one.
The high school teachers are also seeking salary boosts equal to cost-of-living, or about 2 per cent this year, but the province has passed legislation capping all pay increases to 1 per cent a year. Lecce has insisted compensation is the key sticking point.
Both the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association and the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association have raised concerns about larger classes and mandatory online learning, neither of which they support. Those proposals have also proved unpopular with the public and students themselves, according to polls.
“At the heart of these negotiations lie topics that will impact our education system for years to come, the most significant of which is class size negotiations,” said Sally Meseret, who leads the Ontario Student Trustees’ Association representing all 2 million public school students.
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“We will clearly stand behind the maintenance of a 22 average funded class size,” she said. “Even a marginal increase in class sizes can mean reduced pathways for students” as happened this fall with fewer teachers and limited course offerings as the average moved closer to 23.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario was at the negotiating table Dec. 16 and 19, and in a memo to its 76,000 members said “unfortunately, there is no progress to report.”
So far, the provincial government and school board associations have reached two three-year deals with 55,000 support staff represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees as well as a smaller consortium of workers represented by the Educational Workers’ Alliance of Ontario.