Ontario and its teachers union are promising to overhaul a 20-year-old policy that allows the province's retired educators to pad their pensions and work nearly half the school year, costing boards millions of dollars.
The Ministry of Education and the Ontario Teachers' Federation said yesterday that an announcement will come soon regarding the number of days that retired teachers are allowed to work in supply positions. This follows a Globe and Mail investigation that found the province's 10 largest boards could have saved $16.7-million in the past academic year if they had placed new teachers instead of retirees in the classroom. "We are in discussions with the Ontario Teachers' Federation on this very issue, because we do believe that it is important for newly qualified teachers to have teaching experiences," Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said. "I'm committed to looking for the very best resolution."
Insiders say one of the resolutions being floated would allow retirees to work 50 days a year indefinitely, arguably an increase from current regulations, which limit them to 95 days in their first three post-retirement working years and 20 in following years.
The Globe's nine-month investigation, which involved multiple access-to-information requests and appeals to 10 of Ontario's largest boards, representing half of the province's student body, found that cronyism runs rampant in an education system where administrators favour retirees over new teachers for supply assignments at a higher pay scale that, in some cases, doubled the cost to the taxpayer. The biggest school boards alone spent $108.3-million in 2008-09 on hiring retired teachers, who get pension paycheques averaging $40,000 a year. Premier Dalton McGuinty, who made education the cornerstone of his election campaign, has clamped down on university overspending, but has yet to curtail loose spending at school boards.
Malcolm Buchanan, a retired teacher in Hamilton and former general-secretary of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, said a 50-day rule would exacerbate the problem.
"What I'm really advocating is that the rules be changed up to a maximum of 20 days. Period. Not 21 days, not 22 days, but a maximum of 20 days," said Mr. Buchanan, referring to limits that existed before the rules were adjusted in 1990 to accommodate a teacher shortage.
Although the teacher shortage has long since evaporated, , the loosened 95/20 limits have remained in effect.
Elizabeth Witmer, the Conservative education critic, challenged the government to move quickly. "It's a very serious problem and it's an issue that needs to be resolved," she said.
Although it was a former Liberal government that increased the limits on retiree working days, Ms. Dombrowsky pointed a finger at school boards and their hiring practices. "This is something that is up to the boards and schools," she said. "Obviously, the priority is to ensure that there is a qualified teacher at the front of the room."
At least one board, York Catholic, has begun reviewing the amount of teaching work going to retirees. But any effective changes will likely have to come from the ministry. The Toronto District School Board, which began to rein in the number of retirees on its coveted supply lists in the last academic year, gave twice as many assignments to retirees than to teachers certified in the last three years, the Globe investigation found. And in the York Region District School Board, retired teachers got 2.5 day-to-day supply jobs for every one assigned to a new teacher.
With a report from Karen Howlett
Through access-to-information requests and appeals to Ontario's 10 largest school boards, representing half the student population, The Globe and Mail uncovered a system rife with loopholes that enable retired teachers to pad their pensions at a cost to taxpayers of millions of dollars a year. The loopholes were put in place 20 years ago to help the province cope with a teacher shortage.
Some relevant numbers:
- The 10 school boards spent $108.3-million on retired teachers returning to work as long-term and daily supply teachers in the 2008-09 school year.
- The boards would have saved $16.7-million if they gave long-term supply contracts to recently certified teachers instead of retirees.
- The average day rate for a retiree on a long-term supply contract with the York Catholic District School Board was $432.69, compared to $227.36 for the average teacher certified within the past three years.
- Retirees worked 2,861 supply assignments for the Toronto District School Board last year, while new graduates received 1,638 assignments.
- About 6,500 new jobs become available each year, according to the Ontario College of Teachers, but the college certified 12,774 new members in 2008.