Impact of Provincial Changes Worry Teachers

By Kirk Winter

Karen Bratina, President of the local ETFO branch in Trillium Lakelands, has great concerns for the future of elementary education in the province of Ontario. Bratina’s union represents many of the permanent teachers and educational workers you meet every day when you drop off your kids at the local school.

Bratina, like most people concerned with the future of public education, is watching carefully as the Ford government begins to roll out their financial vision for Ontario. That vision likely contains a billion dollar cut to educational funding.

Bratina is aghast at what that cut might do to a system that is already underfunded, and not meeting the diverse needs of the students currently enrolled.

Bratina fears that the only goal the Province has is “to create chaos,” and with the Premier behaving in such an “unpredictable manner” has no idea what future bargaining is going to look like. While the ETFO remains “committed to the best learning environment possible” for its students, she is not sure what the future negotiations will bring.

Class sizes in Kindergarten are currently capped at 29. From Grades 1 to 3, class sizes are currently capped at 20. Grades 4 to 8 classes are on average 24.5 but numbers vary wildly from school to school. Classrooms have never been more diverse in needs than they are today, and teachers are struggling to meet the myriad of social, emotional and educational needs that arrive at their classroom doors on a daily basis. Bratina is relatively sure that the Province will attempt to raise class sizes across the elementary panel at the cost of teacher’s jobs.

Another potential savings for the Province is changing how Kindergarten classes are currently staffed in Ontario. Each classroom currently has a teacher and an ECE responsible for the daily programming in that classroom. The Ford government has refused to commit to that model moving forward, and has also refused to define their image of “all day learning” for Kindergarten students starting next fall.

Bratina believes that teachers are in “for the fight of their lives, and need to be united against potential threats to public education.”

The ETFO has been less than impressed so far with their meetings with the new Education Minister Lisa Thompson. The federation had hoped to gain more “clarity” regarding the government’s plans during these sessions, but so far a Provincial vision has not emerged.

Bratina’s ETFO local has plans to mobilize and educate their members starting in the spring. She stressed that it was important to have a strategic plan in place before negotiations begin, so the federation could be pro-active rather than reactive.

Bratina concluded our interview by sharing, “We need more support, not less. We need smaller classrooms, not larger ones. We need more resources to support our students, not less. We need the government to support our students by increasing funding to school boards not taking funding away.”

It promises to be a challenging time for all involved in education as talks begin for new collective agreements with all four teacher's federations across the province this June.

EducationDeb Crossen