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Automated system for choosing supply teachers routinely circumvented

Many of Ontario's school principals and educators are circumventing an automated system that randomly selects teachers to fill supply-teaching roles, a practice that could account for the disproportionate number of jobs that go to retirees.

Boards condone the policy. The Toronto District School Board and the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board permit schools to prearrange daily supply-teaching jobs, effectively bypassing the automated system. Officials at Dufferin-Peel say it happens about 70 per cent of the time. Other like York Region District School Board allow schools to develop preferred lists of supply teachers.

"The reason why they allow people to put in a preference is because there may be somebody who has been at that school often, who knows the kids in that particular classroom. So there are some benefits to have somebody that has a familiarity with the school," said TDSB spokeswoman Kelly Baker.

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Favouritism, however, comes at a hefty price to taxpayers. A nine-month Globe and Mail investigation, which involved multiple access-to-information requests and appeals to 10 of Ontario's largest boards, representing half of the province's student body, revealed this week that retirees worked just as many days in daily supply positions as newly certified teachers, all while picking up their government-subsidized pension paycheques averaging $40,000 a year. The biggest school boards alone spent $108.3-million in 2008-09 on hiring retired teachers.

Although both groups earn the same in daily supply roles, these veterans earned double the new teachers' rate for long-term assignments without paying into the pension plan. The 10 boards would have saved $16.7-million in the past academic year had they placed new teachers instead of retirees in the classroom, The Globe found.

The Ministry of Education and the Ontario Teachers' Federation this week pledged to change a 20-year-old policy that was put in place during a teacher shortage. It allows retirees to teach 95 days in their first three post-retirement working years and 20 in following years without affecting their pension. The shortage has long evaporated.

New teachers have a difficult time winning one of the highly coveted spots on the school boards' supply list - and once they do, many don't know if they'll get much work. In York Region, retired teachers got 2.5 day-to-day supply jobs for every one assigned to a new teacher in the last academic year. At the TDSB, retirees got two days work for every one day new teachers received.

Ms. Baker said she didn't know how often schools requested a teacher instead of randomly selecting a qualified educator from the supply list. If positions open, teachers have to go through a rigorous interview process before landing a spot on the supply list. Once on the list, a profile is set up with their qualifications and their preferred school choices.

At least one board, the Upper Grand District School Board, has a collective agreement that says schools can't bypass the electronic call system for daily supply work, with small emergency-type exceptions. Others say they are attempting to rein in the number of retirees on the supply lists. But The Globe's investigation showed that any changes would have to be the result of the government modifying the days retired teachers can work.

"[School administrators]all understand that jobs are difficult now, that the market is tough. And we want to get young blood into the system. We know from a succession planning standpoint that's where we should be going," said Nick Milanetti, superintendent of human resources at the Dufferin-Peel Catholic board.

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Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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