Ontario backs down on classroom size, but some teacher unions aren't sold

Mar 4 2020, 7:33 am

The Province of Ontario has agreed to back down on some major bargaining points with teacher unions, making way for a possible resolution between the two groups.

The teachers’ primary concerns are increased classroom size, expansion to online learning, funding cuts to special education, hiring teachers with seniority, and improved salary compensation.

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, said in a press conference on Tuesday, that the province has committed to a significant bargaining point for teachers — keeping classroom sizes low.

“There will be no significant change to classroom sizes this fall with an average class size of 23 students,” Lecce said.

He also emphasized that the province will keep investing in special education funding and have also agreed to a 1% enhancement in compensation for teachers.

On the other bargaining point of e-learning classes, Lecce said that these courses will be optional and “parents, not unions” will make the decision if their child should participate in online learning, which offer more STEM and digital literacy courses.

“It will make them better qualified for the workforce,” the Minister of Education said.

“Families across the province continue to endure hardship due to teacher union caused strikes. We have made major moves at the negotiating table that have not been reciprocated by the unions to date.”

The minister claimed that the ongoing strikes have been because of the unions’ unwillingness to back down on their requests for higher compensation and benefits, as well as hiring practices that are based on seniority instead of merit.

With another province-wide strike on Thursday, March 5, for three of the four major teacher unions, it is still unclear whether Lecce’s announcement will entice teachers back to the bargaining table.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) said on Tuesday that exploratory talks have ended with no future bargaining dates scheduled at this time.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) said after the press conference that negotiations could have been reached long before the Catholic teachers were “forced to take any strike action.”

“While our preference has been to keep details of negotiations at the bargaining table, the repeated misrepresentations by [the government] are undermining the bargaining process. It is time to set the record straight,” Liz Stuart, OECTA president, said.

For Sam Hammond, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) president, Lecce’s “pronouncements to the media” are outside the collective bargaining process.

“ETFO does not bargain in the media and we have not seen details of the Minister’s proposals at the central bargaining table,” Hammond said in a statement. “We have learned from past experience that Minister Lecce’s public announcements do not necessarily translate into negotiating proposals at the table.”

When it comes to the point of special education, Hammond said only one fund was mentioned by the government, while the teacher unions are trying to maintain a second fund that was agreed upon in the last contract extension. If this is the case, Hammond says funding will still be down by $25 million.

“Contrary to what the minister said, these funds flowed through school boards, not unions,” he said.

Hammond also isn’t sold on the concession to lower classroom sizes either.

“Minister Lecce has not reversed the class size increases in grades four to eight, which remain the largest in the system.”

While the ETFO will not be involved in the upcoming strike, they said if contract deals are not made by March 6, then they will begin a new phase of strikes effective Monday.