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The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario headquarters stands in Toronto on March 9, 2020.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

A tentative deal between Ontario’s public elementary school teachers and the government comes with an annual wage increase of just 1 per cent but allows boards to hire 434 more educators across the province to support students with special learning needs.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) shared details Monday evening of its recently negotiated deal, which includes a 4-per-cent bump in benefits in each year of the three-year offer – higher than the government originally wanted.

The ETFO is the country’s largest education union, with 83,000 members. The deal follows months of tensions with the government that led to job actions and strikes across the province.

ETFO president Sam Hammond said in statement earlier this month that it has been a “very prolonged and difficult bargaining process.”

The deal includes a “supports for students fund” of $88-million for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years to create 434 positions meant to address areas such as special education, Indigenous learners, English-language learners and mental-health supports.

The ETFO said in the memo that, although the deal features a 1-per-cent annual salary increase, as per the government’s wage-cap legislation for public-sector employees, there was an agreement between all parties that the union would continue with its legal challenge of that legislation.

The union said the government has also made a “binding, enforceable commitment in writing” to maintain the full-day kindergarten model, which includes a teacher and an early childhood educator.

The ETFO and the Catholic teachers’ union renewed talks with the government and school trustees association after Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced changes to the province’s proposals earlier this month. Both unions have since reached tentative deals. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has not been called back to the bargaining table by provincial mediators.

Mr. Lecce said his government made a commitment to maintain full-day kindergarten and fund supports for special education and other learning needs negotiated in a previous contract.

The government also softened its stance on increasing average class sizes in high school, reducing the maximum number to 23 for the length of the contract; it had previously set a goal of 28, then 25, which would have led to thousands of fewer teachers over four years. The current average number is 22.9.

Furthermore, Mr. Lecce said parents could meet with school guidance counsellors to discuss having their children opt out of two online courses that are required to graduate from high school. The province had initially planned to require four online courses.

As part of the new offer, the government would require unions to comply with its wage-cap legislation and wants concessions on a seniority-based hiring regulation.

The ETFO said in its memo to members that while the agreement does not come with any such concessions, it also doesn’t come with guarantees that the government won’t make changes to the regulation.

Members are expected to vote on the deal from April 23 to 27.

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