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Education Minister Liz Sandals, pictured at a February news conference, hasn’t released the accounting for the first two tentative contracts, saying she will do so after they are ratified.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

Ontario Catholic teachers have reached a tentative deal that offers the same 2.5-per-cent raise the province's public high school teachers negotiated two weeks ago, according to a summary obtained by The Globe and Mail.

However, it's the victories on professional autonomy in both deals – such as how they spend their preparation time – that could especially smooth the way for public elementary teachers, who remain in talks just a week before the school year starts, while threatening a work-to-rule regime.

"I wouldn't say we made concessions at all," Ann Hawkins, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, said in an interview last week.

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"It was all about the issues," she added. "It wasn't about the money."

OECTA members first saw a summary of the deal today, and they will vote on it Sept. 17.

The province had entered talks with four teachers' unions with a tough, double-barrelled request that led to a months-long standoff. But in late August it reached the first two deals suddenly, just days apart, seeming to give up many of those demands.

Provincial negotiators had maintained they would only settle for "net zero" contracts in which salary increases are offset by other financial sacrifices. Education Minister Liz Sandals reiterated in a statement Wednesday that the two tentative agreements are "consistent with" the net-zero approach. She hasn't released the accounting for the first two tentative contracts, saying she will do so after they are ratified.

At the same time, the province wanted to change teachers' decision-making powers in a way that hearkened back to earlier contracts, an idea that made teachers balk.

In OECTA's case, the union had fought to keep its teachers in control of when to administer certain learning tests to their students, Ms. Hawkins has said in earlier interviews. On top of standardized tests, the province had wanted teachers to administer more "diagnostic" tests near the beginning of each school year to evaluate students' abilities.

Teachers resisted the move, saying the province may be hungry for more school data, but that kind of testing regime doesn't help students and eats into classroom time.

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The union won on the issue, keeping their testing arrangement as is. Teachers will judge the type and frequency of diagnostic tests for their students, and each board will provide a list of tests the teachers may choose from.

Talking about the tests was more straightforward than the "very complicated" discussions over benefits, Ms. Hawkins said, but she wouldn't say whether the two sides settled the issue quickly or left it until near the end of talks.

OECTA's win came on the heels of a similar outcome for the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, which had dug in its heels on how teachers should spend their spare periods, along with a proposal to increase class sizes.

Under OSSTF's tentative agreement, teachers won't be asked to spend any extra spare periods supervising students, and class sizes will remain the same. The union also won some leeway around professional judgment, including a promise to consult teachers about any changes to student grades.

This week will show whether those two agreements are paving the way for the province's biggest teachers union, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, which returned to the bargaining table on Monday for the first time since May.

Two weeks ago, ETFO president Sam Hammond told CBC radio that the union was fighting to maintain the professional autonomy won under previous contracts, including the freedom to spend prep time as each teacher wishes. The time is used according to the needs of each class, he said, including preparing for students with special needs.

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"That time is extremely important for our members," he said. "What's currently still on the table is that a principal or school administrators would direct part or all of that time, and we can't let that happen."

The ETFO talks are under a media blackout. They will continue all week as long as they're going well, said a union spokesman.

Catholic teachers also won some improvements to their benefits, including an extra professional development day and extra sick time. If ratified, the deal would provide them a series of raises nearly identical to what public high-school teachers would get: a onetime lump sum payment of 1 per cent for the upcoming school year; a 1-per-cent salary increase in September, 2016, then a 0.5-per-cent salary increase halfway through the 2016-2017 school year.

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