Teachers’ Jobs at Risk

By Kirk Winter

Correction: Since the original posting of this article, we have had further consultation with officials that required an update to some statistics.

As a follow up to the education rally at MPP Laurie Scott`s office, I sat down with Colin Matthew, the President of OSSTF District 15. OSSTF is the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation representing a diverse group of educational workers across the Trillium Lakelands District School Board.

When asked what impact a $1 billion cut would have on education, Matthew replied bluntly that the cuts would affect teacher employment. With 80 percent of educational budgets tied up in salary and benefits, that is where the savings would have to come from. The logical outcome of fewer teachers would be larger class sizes at every grade level.

Matthew says that, “1,100 secondary teachers could lose their jobs along with an equivalent number in the elementary panel.” When extrapolated across all four teacher’s federations, the numbers could be in excess of 4,000 jobs lost.  The current staffing ratio is 22 students generate 1 teacher.  The Ford Conservatives have made noises about wanting to lift class sizes for both publicly funded school panels with no maximum yet decided upon.

Negotiations with the Province are expected to begin no later than June 1, 2019 and Matthew hopes a budget will be in place that specifically lays out what the funding model will be moving forward. Matthew said the federation will have to respond “in kind” to whatever provincial decisions are made by the Ministry of Education. Matthew is disappointed that the Province has been “floating trial balloon after trial balloon” to formulate policy rather than have real and meaningful public consultation that would allow tough decisions to be made.

Matthew believes that the umbrella organization representing all the teacher's unions, the Ontario Teachers’ Federation, is united moving forward realizing that “there is one fight for public education” and OTF needs to be leading it.

Most teachers currently working in Ontario have never been on strike. I wondered how a job action would be received by those teachers. Matthew expected that with “class sizes, compensation, and control of the pension plan perhaps all on the table, motivating teachers would not be a difficult thing to do.” Matthew suggested that a province-wide shut down was not in the cards.

When asked for an opinion of the new Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson, Matthew shared that her lack of background as even a trustee means that she has few insights on improving the system. Rather, her primary job is to “take orders from the Premier and the bureaucrats who staff the Premier’s office.” Matthew questions the Education Minister’s “level of engagement” with the day-to-day running of her department, suggesting that her background as a goat farmer doesn’t mesh well with managing the second largest government portfolio in Ontario.

Matthew stated that a coalition of organized labour from all sectors of the economy is more than strong enough to push back against the Ford Conservatives.

He concluded by warning that, “the cuts proposed will cause chaos for parents and students” and that these rallies outside Conservative MPP's offices are just the beginning.

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