Ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter open to talks on smaller class sizes

The Peterborough Examiner - - Canada & World - AL­LI­SON JONES

TORONTO — On­tario is open to ne­go­ti­at­ing a smaller boost to class sizes, the ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter said Thurs­day, while down­play­ing im­pacts of those larger classes — mes­sag­ing that teach­ers de­cried as an “in­sult” and a “sleight of hand.”

The gov­ern­ment had an­nounced in the spring that high school class sizes would rise from an aver­age of 22 to 28 stu­dents over four years.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Stephen Lecce said Thurs­day that he is will­ing to con­sider ways to bring that 28-stu­dent aver­age down, while still keep­ing cost sav­ings top of mind.

“My mes­sage to unions then and to­day and any trustees’ as­so­ci­a­tion (is) if they can bring forth ideas within our fis­cal au­thor­i­ties, if they bring for­ward in­no­va­tive ideas that can re­duce our class num­bers, I am ... open to those ideas,” he said.

Con­tracts for teach­ers and ed­u­ca­tion work­ers in the prov­ince ex­pire on Aug. 31, but bar­gain­ing for a new deal is still in its early stages.

The On­tario Sec­ondary School Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion was at the On­tario Labour Re­la­tions Board on Thurs­day to de­ter­mine what is­sues should be bar­gained cen­trally, and what should be dealt with at lo­cal ta­bles.

The talks are ex­pected to be dif­fi­cult, given the move to larger class sizes, which the gov­ern­ment has said will mean 3,475 fewer teach­ers in the sys­tem. The Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment has said that will be achieved through at­tri­tion, say­ing there will be no “in­vol­un­tary” job losses.

Teach­ers have warned that the changes will lead to fewer course of­fer­ings and ac­tiv­i­ties, and that some classes, spe­cial­ized ones, in par­tic­u­lar, would bal­loon in size.

Lecce said Thurs­day that he wanted to clar­ify “mis­in­for­ma­tion” that was spread­ing about class-size in­creases, say­ing that for this school year they would only rise to an aver­age of 22.5.

There are no ref­er­ences to a 22.5 aver­age for this school year in the ma­te­ri­als from the for­mer ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter’s orig­i­nal an­nounce­ment.

OSSTF pres­i­dent Har­vey Bischof said Lecce’s an­nounce­ment is smoke and mir­rors, since the gov­ern­ment’s plan is still to in­crease class av­er­ages to 28 over time.

The On­tario English Catholic Teach­ers As­so­ci­a­tion said school boards have al­ready been plan­ning with the 28-aver­age goal in mind, re­sult­ing in cour­ses and pro­grams be­ing can­celled.

“The an­nounce­ment to­day by Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion Stephen Lecce is an in­sult to stu­dents, fam­i­lies, teach­ers, ed­u­ca­tion work­ers and all On­tar­i­ans,” pres­i­dent Liz Stu­art said.

“If the gov­ern­ment was plan­ning a dif­fer­ent course of ac­tion, they could have told On­tar­i­ans about it months ago. In­stead, they have been con­tent to al­low chaos and con­fu­sion to un­fold.”

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