The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) has reached a deal with two school boards, offering signs of hope in a school year that had teachers cut back report cards comments, sports teams and student supervision.
The deals were struck with York Region District School Board and Upper Grand District School Board. They are tentative, and will still require approval from the Minister of Education and possibly also from union membership.
They could provide a template for deals at other school boards, including the 20 where staff are already taking strike action – refusing to do administrative duties and supervise students – and the approximately dozen more set to join their ranks Monday.
"The first deals are often templates for building other deals and on those grounds its certainly sign of hope," said Geoff Williams, director of labour relations for the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.
According to Bill 115, legislation passed this September that also restricts teachers' ability to strike, any deals between union locals and their school boards must be approved by Education Minister Laurel Broten.
Ms. Broten said in a statement that she expects the new deals to match closely an agreement reached in July between her ministry and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association.
"I am very pleased that tentative agreements have been reached between OSSTF locals and two local school boards," she said. "I look forward to receiving the agreements in the days ahead to confirm that they meet the substantively identical test laid out in [Bill 115]."
Though last-minute negotiations between the province and OSSTF fell through early Monday morning, Bill 115 allows for local bargaining – between the school boards and their union locals – to continue until the end of the year. Previous talks fell apart over the issue of experience-based pay raises for younger teachers, which the province would like to delay from taking effect until February.
Ontario is facing a $14.8-billion deficit, and the government has said a teacher pay freeze and cuts to sick days were necessary in order to preserve programs such as full-day kindergarten and caps on primary class sizes.