FERGUS – Education union members from across Wellington County rallied outside of Wellington-Halton Hills MPP Ted Arnott’s downtown office here on May 24.
Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) rallied to raise awareness of proposed government changes to education.
“In general there have been several different cuts throughout the spring that we’re concerned about,” said OSSTF district president Paul Rawlinson. He mentioned increases in class sizes and student funding ratios as well as cuts to funding for specialty programs.
“It’s a culminating effect of all of those cuts that we’re trying to figure out how the system absorbs that without hurting our kids,” he said.
Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece said the groups have the right to protest but he disagreed there have been cuts.
“The minister is proposing changes to the curriculum, changes to other things … I think if you look at the overall budget on education, we’ve increased it by $700 million and we’ve also put $1.6 billion in teacher job projection,” said Pettapiece.
ETFO president Gundi Barbour said she’s concerned about the 53 Upper Grand District School Board elementary teachers who were laid off this spring.
Pettapiece said the notices are sent out every year.
“It’s part of their union contract that these notices have to be sent out,” Pettapiece said. “The budgets were sent out for the school board … two or three weeks ago.
“Once they get through that the true number of teachers that they’ll be using will be there.”
Barbour said she’s also worried about a central programs collapse which means English as a second language (ESL) programs, special education (spec ed) supports, guidance counsellors, etc.
“Right now [the board is] still looking and examining to see if there’d be enough funding to be able to support that,” she said.
“In elementary we might end up with no ESL teachers and no guidance counsellors, no support for spec ed students, extra support, in other words direction for their teachers.”
Barbour said cuts to social services could also impact students and education.
“That directly impacts the classroom because you don’t have any supports for teachers and you don’t have any supports for families,” she said.
Andrew Aloe is also part of the ETFO but he represents occasional teachers. His concern is a lack of educational assistance for occasional teachers who enter established classrooms.
“A teacher will be in a classroom and once in a while they go on leave because it’s just too much for them,” he said. “My long-term occasional teacher will go in that class and after several months they will experience a lot of the same issues.”
Without educational assistant support, Aloe said those occasional teachers move their attention to the students, who need their attention, and they are unable to provide the programming necessary for the rest of the students.
Aloe is also concerned the government will change the regulation that allows them to be hired based on their skill and through a defined process, rather than who they know.
For David Delduca of of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association with the Wellington Catholic District School Board, the biggest concern is job loss.
“The difficult task that we’re having right now trying to move teachers around,” he said.
“The ones who were not supposed to lose jobs, there are people who will end up losing permanent status and that is unacceptable.”
However, Pettapiece said he thinks the government is “doing a pretty good job with the constraints we have fiscally for the education system.”
He said people get worried when there are changes.
“But I think if you look at the overall program and what our government is trying to do, I think that’s what has to be done,” Pettapiece said.
“You have to look at the overall program. I think that the minister and Premier (Doug) Ford have said that there will be no job losses and I take them at their word.”
Barbour urged those who are not in favour of the cuts the new government is implementing to contact their local MPPs.
“That’s how they’re going to make their voices heard because if we wait until the cuts have been implemented then it will be too late,” she said.