Ontario to cap kindergarten classes, give teachers raises in tentative deal

A teacher holds a globe as kindergarten students gather around her. vgajic/Getty Images

TORONTO – Ontario’s Liberal government has agreed to cap full-day kindergarten classes at 30, according to a copy of a tentative contract extension agreement with elementary teachers obtained by The Canadian Press.

If ratified, elementary teachers will get a four-per-cent raise over two years. That’s the same compensation offered to English Catholic teachers and French teachers, according to several other media reports.

Currently, each school board must have an average full-day kindergarten class size of 26, but there is no cap.

READ MORE: Ontario elementary teachers’ union agrees to 2-year contract extension

The terms in the tentative deal, which would still require regulatory amendments, would set a cap at 30 for the 2017-18 school year and 29 for the following year.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario wouldn’t comment on the deal until it is ratified, but it has long pushed for smaller class sizes.

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Education Minister Mitzie Hunter wouldn’t comment on the deal before it’s ratified, but said in general there were certain principles the government had going into talks.

“It’s important that we have the resources in place on behalf of students and as we work together with our unions we’re ensuring that we’re meeting the needs of our students in Ontario,” she said Tuesday.

The government has secured two-year contract extensions for all central education unions except the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, giving the unions deals until 2019 and giving the Liberals labour peace with the teachers ahead of the provincial election next year.

The contracts with teachers and support staff had been set to expire this August, so these new deals would last until August 2019 – well after the June 2018 election.

In the elementary teachers’ new tentative deal, they will get a 1.5 per cent raise on Sept. 1, followed by one-per-cent increases on Sept. 1, 2018 and Feb. 1, 2019, and a further half per cent on Aug. 31, 2019. They will also get a lump sum payment by Nov. 1 of 0.5 per cent of their wages earned in this school year.

“ETFO agrees that it will conduct a survey of its members on the usage of these funds and provide the results to the Crown,” the agreement says.

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READ MORE: Ontario teachers could be in ‘perpetual state of bargaining’

Ontario also agreed to invest $50 million over the two years of the deal for school boards to hire special education teachers. The province agreed to invest a further $39 million for one day in each year of the contract extension for occasional teachers’ professional development, early years special education support, and support for Indigenous students, at-risk students and English-language learners.

The deal also extends local deals, which were bargained separately under a new system during the last round of negotiations.

The last central round of education negotiations were contentious, with support staff and elementary teachers staging work-to-rule campaigns and the government threatening to dock their pay.

The government also took heat during the last set of talks for the costs incurred during the lengthy bargaining, as three unions were promised $2.5 million to cover their negotiation costs.

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