By Kirk Winter
Premier Doug Ford was elected last June on a chilling promise to cut four percent from the Government of Ontario's operating budget.
Budget consultations have begun across the province with information being gathered from the public before a budget release likely this spring.
In Ontario, two-thirds of the provincial budget is eaten up by education and health care, so when any level of budget cuts are being contemplated, it is those two portfolios that will take the cuts squarely between the eyes.
A four percent budget cut would reduce educational funding by approximately a billion dollars. Locally, that level of funding reduction would cost the Trillium Lakelands Board over $8 million.
More than 80 percent of the education budget is made up of staff salaries and benefits. Teachers, educational assistants, administrators, support staff and board office personnel are all paid out of that budget with the remaining money going to repair schools, purchase supplies and pay for heat, hydro and busing.
The Ford government is threatening to upset what has been an almost two decade era of relative peace in the educational sector ushered in by the election of Dalton McGuinty in 2002.
McGuinty campaigned on the platform of being the “Education Premier”, and made good on his promises initially to restore billions of dollars stripped out of the system by the seemingly endless cuts made by former Premier Mike Harris.
Some fear a return to the adversarial relationship between teachers and the Province that was a hallmark of the Harris years, with job actions the order of the day. Premier Ford faces the reality this summer of having to negotiate with all five teachers federations simultaneously as their contracts with the Province expire August 31, 2019. The 2019/2020 school year is shaping up to be a tumultuous one, with withdrawal of extra-curricular services, work to rule, and province-wide teachers’ strikes a real possibility.
Teachers, educational workers, and friends of education are planning to rally at the constituency of local MPP Laurie Scott today, February 7, from 3:30 to 4pm. Rallies will happen simultaneously at most Conservative constituency offices across Ontario. Teachers believe if their voice is heard loud and clear before the budget consultations, that their concerns will be reflected when the government sits down to divide the financial pie early in April.
Scott, as Minister of Labour, will potentially also play a significant role in upcoming negotiations. Her power to legislate striking teachers back to work is a hammer that the Premier possesses.
Local District 15 OSSTF President Colin Matthew is very concerned about the direction the Ford Conservatives are taking. No one is surprised the attention the government is paying to class sizes. The government claims that there is no data to prove that smaller classes improve student achievement, while there are many experienced classroom teachers who suggest anecdotally the opposite. Class size increases will allow the firing of thousands of teachers province wide, easily giving Ford the four percent savings he has targeted.
Elementary and secondary teachers will be at the the rally that will feature a guest speaker, OSSTF Provincial Executive member Paul Caccamo.