Letter to MPPs from Ontario’s French, Catholic and Public School Board Associations

Our news & views

August 23, 2012

School boards have raised a number of concerns about proposed education legislation.

Dear MPP,

One of the key roles of school boards is to be responsive at the local level to the expectations of parents of school-age children and youth. Parents in Ontario expect school boards to protect the quality of education in the classroom and the future of the education system by making decisions that are focused squarely on what is in the best interests of all students and the learning environment.

This communication is to bring to your attention those aspects of the Putting Students First Act that:

  • require caution with regard to the unprecedented measures contained in this legislation, and
  • are not in the best interests of students.

Unprecedented Measures

The Putting Students First Act has been introduced after more than five months of provincial discussions, during which the government signed agreements with only three employee groups, with complete disregard for the views expressed by school boards.  The signing of these “agreements” was an unprecedented action that lies outside the provisions of Ontario’s Labour Relations Act which governs collective bargaining in this province. 

Today, more than 60 percent of the employee groups remain without a provincial framework, which would typically guide the local agreements.  School boards now find themselves, at the 11th hour, being threatened by the government if they fail to reach more than 400 collective agreements inside of three weeks based on the unsatisfactory framework developed with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. In addition, the government knows that collective bargaining is a bi-lateral process and school boards cannot impose an arbitrary deadline for the conclusion of joint negotiations between equal parties. Consequently, the government’s expectations are unrealistic, unreasonable and unprecedented.

Failing to achieve these agreements could mean that the provisions of the Putting Students First Act will be imposed on school boards and all school board employees, (unionized and non-unionized) whether or not the provisions actually work within the context of existing local collective agreements and working conditions. 

The proposed legislation expressly provides that neither the Ontario Labour Relations Board nor any arbitrator may make any decision on whether any provision of the Putting Students First Act is constitutionally valid. In addition to over-riding provisions of the Ontario Labour Relations Act, the proposed legislation seeks also to override provisions of the Employment Standards Act and to prevent challenges that might be based on provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code. It even purports to reign in the jurisdiction of our courts.

The proposed legislation would fundamentally alter the landscape by impeding the right of employees to collectively bargain, while enabling the government to essentially impose collective agreements on boards and teachers. Furthermore, unlike “back to work” legislation, this bill would eliminate the right to strike or lockout even before such right is exercised. 

The best interests of students

The Government insists, without any meaningful policy debate, on imposing conditions about how teachers are to be hired and how students are to be assessed. These are two important factors that affect the quality of education in our schools and are not in the best interests of our students, parents or Ontario’s world-class education system.

We fail to see how they help to address the government’s major concern of reducing the deficit. Instead, they will seriously undermine the primary mandate of school boards as spelled out in the Education Act – “to promote student success and well-being.” 

Currently, hiring is based on the principles of equity and fairness. Assessment is based on well-established practices and protocols. Both hiring and assessment are determined by school boards. New teachers are hired based on qualifications and experience, not by the amount of time they have worked as an occasional teacher. The objective is to hire the best qualified applicant. Indeed, restraints on hiring may impede boards’ efforts to ensure that their teachers collectively reflect our diverse communities.

With respect to student assessment, teachers assess students using objective measures chosen by the board and not simply by a method of the teacher’s choosing. Teacher input into assessment tools is important, but the ultimate responsibility must reside with each school board.

Control over hiring and assessment was, without the consent of school boards, given away by the government in the process of gaining the agreement with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association to accept a wage freeze and other concessions. Reducing the amount of time teachers spend supervising children as agreed to by the government and the l’Association des Enseignantes et des Enseignants Franco-Ontariens (AEFO), seriously compromises the safety and well-being of students. In so doing, the government ignored the strong objections of elected trustees, directors of education, and supervisory officers.

Boards are purposeful in the assessments they use to achieve the best outcomes for students, year over year. This is lost if teachers, outside of the board’s improvement planning process, can choose which assessments to use, for which students, when and how often. Both of these past practices, directly connected to what is best for students, were given away. This loss should not now become part of government regulations.

Amending the proposed legislation

We appreciate that the recent action on the part of the government is driven by the need for fiscal constraint in Ontario’s current economic climate. School boards have told the government a number of times that we support the need for stringent financial parameters.  Since the government believes it is necessary to legislate in order to achieve its financial goals, such legislation should only support achieving the necessary financial parameters for the defined two-year period and not have open-ended enabling language to permit unfettered regulations or comparable orders that subvert the legitimate collective bargaining process.  The legislation should also not compromise the ability of school boards to fulfil their obligations with regard to ensuring student achievement and student well-being. By altering the hiring practices of school boards and undermining the student assessment practices of school boards, the government is weakening the quality of education for our students.

There is no need to compromise quality education to achieve the government’s fiscal objectives relating to employee compensation. We would ask all MPPs who are planning on supporting this legislation to stand up for the rights of students in your schools, and amend the proposed legislation accordingly.

 Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA)

Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’Ontario (ACEPO)

Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC)

Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)

People For Education Viewpoint:

School boards have a number of important roles. They act as a local level of democracy; they can respond to the unique needs of their communities; and, last but not least, they can act as a buffer against the direct impact of politics in education. In all those ways, school boards can ensure that students – who are afterall, the point of the education system – have the best education possible.

Many argue that this legislation undermines the important role that school boards have in safeguarding and improving education for our children.

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