Ontario's Catholic and francophone school boards expressed frustration with the minority Liberal government after changes to proposed teachers' legislation have left them with a tougher deal than the one their public-school counterparts will get.
In an effort to garner Conservative support for its legislation that would force a new contract on teachers this fall and ban lockouts and strikes, the Ontario government on Monday removed controversial amendments to hiring and student assessment practices from the bill.
Those provisions, however, remain intact for the two teachers unions – the English Catholics and francophone teachers – who signed deals with the government, and their respective boards. School board associations and some parents have spoken out against the changes, saying they erode management rights and could hurt the quality of education. The province gave these two teachers unions more control over the assessment they use to track student learning and introduced a requirement that principals hire based on seniority, in exchange for a wage freeze and a delay to experience-based raises for new teachers.
"It's a sad day," said Louise Pinet, executive director of the Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l'Ontario. "It certainly disadvantages the school boards that would have to live with the [memorandum of understanding] as it is written."
Catholic trustees, meanwhile, say they believe the terms of the deal signed by their teachers union does not apply to them – a statement directly contradicted by the Ministry of Education.
Education Minister Laurel Broten said she had no choice in removing the two provisions from the bill, which was introduced Monday.
Both elementary and secondary public school teachers have not reached agreements with their boards. Without a deal or legislation, that means existing contracts set to expire on Aug. 31 will remain in effect, leaving the province to pay for as many as two million more banked sick days and a 5.5-per-cent pay increase for new teachers as it battles a $15-billion deficit.
"Our strong preference was to see these provisions in each and every local collective agreement, but minority government calls for reasonable compromise," said Ms. Broten in an e-mail statement.
The government and opposition parties returned to the legislature two weeks early on Monday to consider legislation that would freeze teachers' wages, cut sick days and block them from going on strike.
The legislation will likely become law, as the provincial Tories have agreed to help pass it.
While the association representing public school boards was pleased that the bill was amended to reflect its concerns, large teacher unions, who have long supported Premier Dalton McGuinty, were upset. They have planned a rally Tuesday at Queen's Park, and have vowed to challenge the legislation all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada if it is passed.
That could spell trouble for Mr. McGuinty, who has fashioned himself as the Education Premier.
The Liberal government's confrontational tone with teachers stands in stark contrast to the friendly relationship Mr. McGuinty has enjoyed in the past. The government put teachers on notice in March that it wanted them to accept a two-year salary freeze and no movement up the pay grid to help eliminate the deficit.
In exchange, the province promised to preserve full-day kindergarten and protect gains made in previous rounds of bargaining, including caps on elementary class sizes and more preparation time for lessons.