NDP candidate hammers the government - points out that Deputy Ministers have been given 14% increases over a 4 year period

opinionred 100x100By Andrew Drummond

February 5th, 2020

BURLINGTON, ON

 

This week, across Halton region there will be three days of education disruption. The elementary teachers will be striking Monday and Thursday while their counterparts in the Secondary system will be striking Tuesday. The reasons for the strikes are many, but the attitude of the Minister of Education has been puzzling throughout. Despite the obvious false nature of many of his comments, the Minister has stuck to the talking point of this being entirely about compensation for teachers. It feels occasionally like the reason we are in such a mess with education in Ontario was that because Minister Lecce and Premier Ford hate teachers, they assumed that everyone hated teachers. Then, once they discovered that to be untrue, they had no backup plan to build a plan that would be palatable to the public.

Teachers elementary strike

Teachers take over the side walks across Halton.

Regardless of the reasons, Ontario is now in a state of distress regarding its education systems. For the first time in decades, every union representing educators is in a strike position. And for all the bluster with press releases and accusations, there are only three primary areas of contention between the two sides: class sizes, salaries, and mandatory e-learning. One of these, salaries, has some limited legitimacy as a contentious issue, but the other two are such terrible ideas that the government has been unable to even defend them effectively.

The biggest hole in the government’s plan is the planned implementation of mandatory e-learning. The government’s dictum for students graduating in 2024 and beyond (typically students in Grade 8 today) will be that in order to get a Secondary School Diploma, they will need to have earned 2 e-learning credits, meaning credits taken online rather than in a classroom. The government had previously intended to require 4 credits but reduced the decision in November after public outcry.

When asked to explain the rationale for this requirement, the government stated that mandatory e-learning will allow Ontario to be “a global leader of modern and digital education,”. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence to suggest that making e-learning mandatory will accomplish that goal. Five jurisdictions in North America (Michigan, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, and Virginia) have experimented with 1 mandatory credit, but none of those programs has been successful with lowered passing rates from every data point available.

In reality, the government is just looking to cut more teaching positions. The e-learning courses would be offered with a teacher to student ratio of 35:1 which would be considerably higher than the in classroom 22.5:1 currently or even the 25:1 proposed. Of note, when e-learning was implemented in Alabama, it was done with LOWER teacher to student ratios in order to give students the best chance of success. If student success was truly the goal in Ontario, there would be additional resources to support the program. However, by presenting it as a reduction in teacher support it is clear that for Ontario, e-learning is only a mechanism to reduce the number of teachers.

Teachers Education workers

It it’s not just the teachers looking for an increase – educational works take to the picket lines.

The second major issue in negotiations is salary. The government’s talking points in this dispute revolve entirely around the strike being an issue of teacher compensation. Minister Lecce has stated repeatedly “We prioritize student investment over compensation.” The government has publicly offered the educators a salary increase of 1% per year for three years. The concern is that the inflation rate in Ontario is 2.3%. Therefore, a compensation increase of 1% is really a cut of 1.3% in purchasing power. The ask of the teachers matches most private sector companies. In the private sector, most offer their employees a minimum of a 2% increase every year as “Cost of Living” and performance dictates any increase beyond that. This is seen as necessary to retain talent, but the government is trying to restrain that expected increase for the teachers.

In November, the government also passed the “Protecting a Sustainable Public Sector for Future Generations Act” to mandate by law that teachers not be eligible for an increase greater than 1%. While not frequent in its talking points, the law is nevertheless used as part of the government’s case (though it is being challenged in court as unconstitutional). The hypocrisy though is that while the legislation would cap increases for teachers and nurses among others, there is a lengthy list of professions that are exempt including:

– OPP officers who won a 2.15% increase in an arbitrated settlement earlier this year
– Doctors, who won an arbitrated settlement to increase fees earlier this year
– Crown Attorneys, who are currently negotiating their next agreement
– Deputy Ministers, whose salary has increased by 14% across the past 4 years

A quick analysis of this list shows the government aggressively fighting wage increases for low earners, but allowing bigger increases for highly paid professions. Limiting compensation is an expected position for the government to take in a bargaining negotiation, but legislation to cap an increase below both inflation and other higher paid positions is not bargaining in good faith.

Teachers strike at Nelson

Teachers line the sidewalk outside Nelson high school.

The last of the primary demands from the government is the increase in secondary class sizes from a student:teacher ratio of 22:1 to a ratio of 25:1. This again, is a retreat from the government as the initial demanded ratio was 28:1. The government nonsensically states that this can be achieved with no teacher layoffs, though the layoffs in every board as a result of increasing to the 22.5:1 ratio in September 2019 shows this to be categorically untrue.

The additional frustrations of this government demand is the clear deception regarding no layoffs (simple math shows that 12% fewer teachers are needed at 25:1 rather than 22:1), but also that the government messaging continues to suggest they prioritize student resources over compensation. It begs the question, what resources are more important to students than their teachers? By essentially removing 1 out of 8 teaching positions, they are depriving students of the very resources they are trying to say they prioritize.

In short, it is clear that the government’s attempts to enforce mandatory e-learning are actually a cover to reduce the number of teaching positions. It is clear that the increase in class sizes will do nothing for student achievement, but will reduce the number of teaching positions. And, it is clear that the government intends to use whatever means necessary to reduce the compensation of whatever teachers remain after these cuts.

Teachers at Central with Horvath

Another photo op for the New Democratic leader. Andrea Horvath with teachers.

The government has an obvious hatred for teachers shown in the false and duplicitous nature of Minister Lecce’s public statements. The government is clearly forcing e-learning for the purpose of cutting teachers and classroom support. And the government mandated class size increases, while profitable, will degrade the quality of public education in Ontario. Is it for those reasons and others, that such an unprecedented number of parents, students, and community members have been joining teachers on the picket lines to help fight these cuts, and to fight for the education resources that Ontario’s students deserve.

Andrew Drummond HeadshotAndrew Drummond was the New Democrat candidate in the 2018 provincial election.  He placed second behind Jane McKenna who won the seat in a previous election. VOTES in the 2018 election were: 25,504 PC; 18,053 NDP; 15,515 Liberal; 2828 Green

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18 comments to NDP candidate hammers the government – points out that Deputy Ministers have been given 14% increases over a 4 year period

  • Paul Brandon

    Apparently the average class size of 28 is still on the table. The average class size of 25 with no maximum class size isn’t on the table. Ironically, the layoffs of teachers is not due to the move to an average class size of 28, but due to cuts in other education funding. This has been confirmed by the Financial Accountability Office of Ontario,

    • Joe Gaetan

      Paul: Can you source that? The following is excerpted from the 2019 FAO report entitled Expenditure Estimates 2019-20: Ministry of Education : “In subsequent announcements, the Province stated that the reduction in teachers required to implement the new class size ratios (including e-learning) would be gradually achieved through attrition only (teacher retirements and other voluntary job exits) and that no layoffs would be required. To support this commitment, the Province announced $1.6 billion in temporary funding to school boards called the Teacher Job Protection Fund. Under this plan, the new class size ratios would be achieved in four school years, once enough teachers had retired or voluntarily left their positions.”

  • Joe Gaetan

    The facts are, the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives have all caved-in in the past. Our heath care system is in DESPERATE need of funding and there is only one pocketbook, ours. Teachers, like Doctors, Nurses, Police Officers, etc. are all compensated from the same pocket book, ours again. E-learning will happen one way or another and this generation is best suited to use it. So whether it is mandatory or not bring it on. Teaching is an undisputed honorable profession and they deserve to be treated as such. They also deserve to be compensated fairly, which I believe they are here in Ontario. As to a cost of living increase, who doesn’t want that, but now is the time to divert more of our tax dollars to Healthcare.

    • Andrew Drummond

      Hi Joe,

      Thanks for reading. I appreciate the idea that the healthcare system is more worthy of funding than education. I don’t agree, but more importantly I don’t believe that it is an either/or scenario.

      One of the Ford government’s first acts was to lower corporate taxes. This cost hundreds of millions in revenue. They further recently spent more than $200 million to rip wind turbines out of the ground.

      My point is not that health care doesn’t deserve funding, my point is that this particular government will fund what it chooses to fund with no thought to the overall impact on Ontario’s finances. To believe that cutting education will make money available for healthcare is simply not true.

      I also don’t agree that whether e-learning is mandatory or not isn’t a big issue. E-learning exists today. Students perform badly in e-learning courses today, particularly students that do not excel in a traditional environment. Mandatory e-learning will do nothing to alleviate that, it will only do a disservice to students who need the help of a teacher.

      Investments make healthcare AND education thrive. Cuts predictably lead to bad outcomes in both areas.

      • Philip Waggett

        Andrew,
        You say that the Ford government cost hundreds of millions in revenue–do you have proof? I know they lowered corporate tax rates but did the revenue generated by the government also fall?

      • Joe Gaetan

        Hi Andrew: I believe the NDP would adopt a different posture on this and deficit spending in general if they were in government rather than in opposition. I am old enough to remember the, “The Social Contract” a 1993 initiative of the provincial Ontario New Democratic Party government of Bob Rae to impose austerity measures on civil service.

        • You are absolutely right Joe Gaeten. Anne got a headline in the “Burlington Journal” at the time breaking the story of how many including children receiving cancer treatment were victimized by “The Social Contract”. Just one of the many tragic results of the NDP moving to conserve resources in the totally wrong direction. Anne worked at the internationally respected McMaster University Medical Centre at the time now, part of HHSC overseen by Rob McIsaac former Burlington mayor! She worked at the hospital where these treatments were cancelled and she shared the front page with the boys mother. The NDP support of the union tactics (including using chldren for their protests) hopefully will see Burlington in particular smarten up at the next election. The leader of the NDP switched not long after they were reduced to a handul of MPPs to the Reds who were also reduced to a handful of MPs. It is a dangerous practice to forget the history of those who went before in terms of politics, parties and leaders not only in Burlington but throughout the world. Lest we Forget is an important call to make informed choices at every election.

  • Judy christie

    Teachers must be in school for professional development days. They need to be on the picket line to get a small fraction of their regular salary. I am quite sure the money used to compensate parents comes directly out of teachers’ salaries.
    The Union bosses are pretty hard on the teachers as well. I hope an agreement is here soon for the sake of students and their very important teachers.

  • Stephen White

    Whether one agrees or disagrees with the Ford government and the Education Minister, Stephen Lecce, the fact is that they have offered compromises during collective bargaining. They have offered to reduce the student/teacher ratio to 22:1, and they have cut the number of e-learning credits required from 4 to 2. That begs the inevitable question: where are the teachers’ unions showing any compromises? Their response has been to ratchet up the tension by withholding services and not performing key aspects of their jobs. Who suffers? Answer: the students.

    The teachers’ unions throughout these negotiations have been confrontational and belligerent. For a profession that preaches santimoniously about demonstrating “tolerance” and “respect” in the classroom they might try practising it a little more and preaching it a little less. Their union leadership are typically pawns for the provincial NDP, and the significant number of NDP MPPs with ties to the teachers’ unions and Boards of Education (e.g. Catheriine Fife, Marjit Stiles, etc.) isn’t lost on the Ontario electorate. If the teachers unions want to improve the bargaining situation then put the media ads on hold, and try putting forward workable solutions to overcome this impasse that are also financially prudent. Remember: Doug Ford didn’t rack up the highest sub-national budgetary debt in the world. That dubious honour belongs to Kathleen Wynne.

    Finally…there are a lot fewer Deputy Ministers in Ontario than there are teachers. The last time I checked, Deputy Ministers don’t have a union, they don’t have negotiated salary increases guaranteed in their collective agreement, they don’t have job security, they don’t have Professional Development Days, and they don’t get two months off during the summer.

    • Andrew Drummond

      Hi Stephen,

      Thanks for reading. I think one of the key points here is that coming down from an outrageous position (adding 6 kids to every class) to a lesser, but still outrageous position (adding 3 kids to every class) is not actually trying to compromise. For the e-learning in particular, ANY mandatory credits are a terrible idea and it would be a disservice to all to allow them to move forward in any meaningful way.

      As for the messaging, it’s a stretch to call the union leadership “pawns of the provincial NDP”, and the rhetoric from the minister has been incredibly inflammatory at every stage, to level not even seen from Minister Snoblen, who was previously thought of as the most antagonistic Minister of Education Ontario has seen.

      To be honest, the deputy ministers are not the ones I have the biggest problem with. The police, doctors, and lawyers all DO have their own associations and they all got raises below that of what the teachers are asking for. Realistically, you should be commending the teachers for asking for so little rather than starting at an outrageous number like 4% and then “compromising” down to 2%.

  • Judy christie

    Do not fool around with our future generation! We owe them the best education possible. It is a difficult job to be a teacher. I am not a teacher but, do not think they feel entitled at all.
    They are teaching our children and should be supported fully by everyone!!
    Class size counts enrmously and some teachers have not had a pay raise for 7 years!!
    Shame!!

  • P Clark

    Yes, Math. Lmao. Good one.

  • James

    I don’t think anyone hates teachers, but I think their union has brainwashed them into thinking they’re the most important job out there, and that they are somehow immune to business/financial realities. It’s simple, the government is making cuts in many different areas, education just so happens to be one of them. The former provincial government drove us so deeply into debt that this current government must now try and fix the mess they inherited. Cuts are never popular, but when the money just isn’t there, it isn’t there. Cuts are unfortunately just something that must be done. For anyone who works in the private sector, they have no doubt experienced the ups and downs the economic realities have on their day to day activities. Some years are good, some years are bad. Sometimes the finances just aren’t there and we have to make due with what we have, whether it be lack of staff or lack of supplies. We may not always have the best tools with which to do our jobs, and yeah it sucks, but it happens. Working for a living isn’t always sunshine and roses. We deal with it and move on. It’s a shame teachers seem unable to do that, and is in large part why they don’t tend to get much sympathy from the general working public. Is it ideal? Of course not, but what’s the alternative? If you are so strongly opposed to your working conditions, you are free to leave at any time, just like everyone else. Teachers need to stop thinking they’re different. It’s their sense of entitlement which is turning people against them.

  • Deputy Minister raises over the last 4 years and similar things is one of the reason Andrew finished ahead of Burlington’s Liberal candidate. Andrew’s second place would never have been achieved in Burlington if the truth about the former government had not got across to the electorate. There is more to come don’t be fooled into believing everything that’s said. Take the public interest vs.self interest test. Andrea is making hay while the sub shines in terms of where she can demonize the present government for reasons of self-interest – the next election. Not off our children’s backs please Andrea – it is not in line with the commitment you gave to Anne when she gave you the opportunity to go to Quuen’s Park by ousting the other candidate at the nomination meeting and you slid to an easy victory. Our children’s education should not be used for such purposes.

  • P Clark

    Facts conveniently omitted: Ontario has 350 billion in debt. Ontario has a deficit of 11 billion per year.

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