Ontario has reached an agreement with the francophone teachers' union, but can't close the deal without the school boards that are refusing to sign, saying they were cut out of the bargaining process.
While the deal announced Thursday represents helpful progress to government fighting to avoid expensive teacher pay raises and labour disruption this school year, it holds little sway without the support of the province's 12 francophone school boards.
"We're very, very disappointed," said Carole Drouin, executive director of the Catholic French school boards group, the Association Franco-Ontarienne des Conseils Scolaires Catholiques. "The law says that fair negotiations have to be between the employer and the union.… With the minister signing these contracts with teachers unions it's clear she has picked her partners," she said, referring to Education Minister Laurel Broten.
Although education costs including teacher salaries are paid by the province, teachers are employed by school boards. The English school boards, Catholic and secular, have both criticized the government for cutting them – the employers – out of negotiations and drafting a deal that gives too much power to the unions.
If a new contract isn't ready ahead of Sept. 1, then the old contract will take effect and teachers will get raises as high as 5.5 per cent – something the province says it can't afford. The Ministry of Education drafted a tentative deal with the English Catholic union that would stop raises for most teachers and delay experience-based pay grid bumps for the youngest ones. It also would cut teachers' sick days in half, from 20 to 10, and block them from being banked or accumulated.
The province projects that, if all the school boards accepted that draft deal, it would see $1.4-billion in one-time savings, $250-million next school year and $540-million the year after.
Ms. Drouin said the province's francophone school boards have serious concerns with the deal, which gives unions more control over hiring and student assessment.
One particularly contentious item – which is particular to Thursday's deal – shortens the time teachers spend supervising students before class starts.
The hiring issue – which would require school boards to give more weight to seniority than other qualifications – is especially hard to swallow for the French boards, which struggle with a shortage of qualified teachers and often rely on newly certified teachers.
School boards of every stripe have raised concerns over whether this will block them from putting the best possible candidates in charge of student learning. Union leaders have said that it will help avoid nepotism or situations where a principal hires a neighbour, niece or nephew right out of teachers college.
Ms. Broten has been urging school boards to sign the deals she has struck with 55,000 of the province's 125,000 teachers. But only one, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, has signed so far. Trustees from that board said after closer consideration they felt the hiring and assessment concessions weren't as bad as initially thought.
At a news conference Thursday morning, Ms. Broten said she felt the school boards will warm to the deal once they understand some common "misconceptions" about the terms, including that hiring would be entirely seniority-based or that all student assessment would stop.
"We've done the heavy lifting at the provincial level, now boards have to get to work," she said.
Premier Dalton McGuinty has directed school boards to use the deal with Catholic teachers as a "road map" in negotiations with all of the province's educators. He has threatened to use legislation to avoid labour disruption.