The Ontario government is threatening to take over school boards if they don’t meet tight deadlines and budget requirements in their negotiations with teacher unions.
In a memo obtained by The Globe and Mail, assistant deputy minister of education Gabriel Sékaly directs the boards to reach a deal with the unions before the start of the 2012-2013 school year and requires them to work within a contract framework established by the Ministry of Education and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.
The memo suggests that school boards could be facing a provincial takeover if they do not sign teacher contracts within the next six weeks, consequences a government spokesman would neither confirm nor deny.
“We’re committed to reaching agreements that meet our fiscal objectives and ensuring that school starts the day after Labour Day,” spokesman Grahame Rivers said in an e-mail. The memo puts school boards in a tough spot in demanding that they get teachers to sign on to an agreement that all but one union has refused.
According to the memo, failing to meet these terms “would raise concerns about a board’s ability to meet its financial obligations, at which point, the Minister could decide to exercise her powers” which include provincial supervision.
The relationship between the Dalton McGuinty government and educators was once warm enough that the Premier managed to bring all the school boards and the unions to one bargaining table to streamline negotiations and settle major items such as teacher salaries.
But in the face of a $15-billion deficit, that relationship has cooled, and school boards have raised concerns that their powers are being eroded.
Reached late Tuesday, both the public and the Catholic school board associations said they had seen the memo but weren’t prepared to comment. Union representatives also declined or did not return requests for comment.
Though teachers are employed by the school boards, funding for the salaries comes from the Ministry of Education. The latest negotiations have seen the ministry assert its power partly by circumventing the school boards.
The ministry reached a deal with the OECTA by taking the unprecedented step of cutting Catholic school boards out of the agreement.
The deal gave teachers in the 45,000-member union a two-year pay freeze, three unpaid professional development days, fewer sick days, as well as blocking them from banking unused ones.