There’s no doubt that you’ve already heard about the problems the school boards, the unions, and the Ontario government are having. The government wants to cut spending by freezing teachers’ wages for two years (not including new teachers;) cease sick day payments upon retirement; and take away teachers’ control in regards to standardized testing. Now the Education Minister has taken things into her own hands, by putting it in the hands of others. And if they don’t do what she says, there will be millions of consequences to pay.
The teacher’s collective bargaining agreement expires on September 1, and the new deal proposed by the provincial government includes all the elements that will help them save money, including freezes on teachers’ pay hikes. However, they have so far been unable to come to an agreement – and with just weeks until the new school year begins.
Typically what would occur if the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement would be a teachers’ strike. The last time that happened was in 1997, in reaction to Mike Harris’ work-to-rule legislation. But that won’t happen this time, says Education Minister Laurel Broten. If the school boards and the unions don’t come to an agreement, she’s ready to hire supply teachers to take over the job.
It was on Friday that Ms. Broten sent the email to 660 school trustees, outlining exactly what consequences they’ll pay if they can’t come up with an agreement between them and their teachers. The most notable consequence is that each school board will be forced to pay millions and millions of dollars in wage hikes. She says that because the provincial government isn’t prepared to pay for teachers’ raises, the boards will have to do so themselves. And it’s quite a cost they’d be incurring; the chart below shows how much each board would have to pay.
That email has inflamed most of the school boards, and the teachers within them. Of course the government needs to get a deal signed and delivered, the teachers argue. But they’ve had months to do it, and now the boards and the teachers have just a matter of few weeks.
Janet McDougald, who’s been chair of the Peel District School Board for 24 years, says she’s never received such communication from a minister, and she thinks it’s simply preposterous.
“I fail to understand why the government would think local school boards could negotiate something with their federations in three weeks that the ministry was unable to accomplish in five to six months,” she says.
In fact, the ministry has accomplished something. One school board, the Toronto Catholic Board, has already signed the deal for a two-year wage freeze, fewer sick days, and no sick day pay upon retirement. This board was also the only one that did not receive the email from Ms. Broten.
Of course, Broten’s camp is claiming that the email was not meant to be taken in a dictator fashion, but instead was meant as a call of action to get everyone working together.
Paris Meilleur, Broten’s spokesperson said,
“It was personal outreach, from elected person to elected person, to say there’s an opportunity to really step up and make a difference to the bottom line of the board and to protect education.”
She too however, agreed that Ms. Broten’s email was “fairly unusual outreach.”
But the email certainly wasn’t received that way. Don Vrooman, chair of the Halton District School Board says it feels more like the school boards are being shut out, rather than collaborated with.
“Its really unfortunate that it’s not everybody working together anymore – or it doesn’t feel that way,” he says. “She’s pushed the boards and the unions away from the dock.”
Lori Lukinuk of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association agrees with Mr. Vrooman saying,
“What we are having difficulty with is that she’s saying, ‘Go away and have discussions locally with union groups.’ But it really sounds like she’s saying ‘Sign on the bottom line.’ That’s not really negotiating.”
Of course the boards are negotiating with the unions, and the provincial government is fighting with the boards. None of it is good news, but where does this leave the kids, or the adults? Kids staying at home for two weeks, or two months, isn’t any parent’s ideal vision of September or October; and parents with small children could be forced to take time off work, and lose their own salary money in the process.
But truthfully, nothing is likely to happen, not even if the boards and unions can’t come up with a deal in the next couple of weeks. Even if the boards and teachers can’t strike a deal and the teachers end up striking, the government seems content to hire supply teachers to take their place, or impose back-to-work legislation that would force the teachers back. It was this action that Mike Harris took in 1997 when the teachers walked off the job; and it’s this action that the provincial government is prepared to take again to make sure that school starts again on time.
“We will not allow the start of the school year to be delayed or interrupted,” Ms. Broten has said at a news conference.
However, Premier Dalton McGuinty has also admitted that he is only “hopeful” that a new deal will be reached before the start of the school year.