Even Washington’s faltering “fiscal cliff” talks went down to the wire.
Ontario’s schools, on the other hand, tipped over their own precipice quietly on Monday night as the provincially imposed deadline for school boards and unions to bargain new contracts came and went. There were no last-minute negotiations and no public pleas for a return to the table.
Instead, long before the midnight deadline, teachers’ union leaders and school board officials had already turned their attention to Thursday, when Education Minister Laurel Broten has promised to reveal the government’s next steps. The deadline passing does not automatically trigger the contentious provisions of Bill 115 – legislation designed to freeze teachers’ wages, curtail their accumulation of sick days and limit their right to strike – but it gives Ms. Broten the power to impose contracts with those terms if she chooses.
In a Sunday statement announcing a tentative deal with the union representing 55,000 school support workers, Ms. Broten urged that “those school boards, teachers and support staff who have yet to conclude and submit local agreements will do so,” but she did not speak publicly on Monday. When asked Monday afternoon what was happening ahead of the deadline, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation president Ken Coran replied, “Absolutely nothing that I’m aware of.”
School boards are expected to gather on Thursday after Ms. Broten speaks to plan a strategy for the return to class on Jan. 7, and the OSSTF has called a meeting of local presidents for Jan. 9 to take its membership’s pulse.
School and union leaders seemed resigned on Monday, but some held out hope that Ms. Broten may not wield the full force of Bill 115 just yet. “I hope we don’t get into, ‘Okay, this is the end, and here [the contracts] are imposed,’ but in fact some more positive proposition than that happens on Thursday,” said Annie Kidder, executive director of the advocacy group People for Education, “because [imposing terms] will make things very difficult for the next two years.”
Both camps have taken public criticism over halted extracurricular activities, which are not expected to resume in the new year. Teachers’ unions maintain they’re open to a wage freeze, but argue Bill 115 infringes on their right to bargain collectively. The government counters that the bill was needed to help tackle the province’s deficit while protecting full-day kindergarten and caps on class sizes.