Bill Kelly: Time to get serious about teacher negotiations

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Nov. 28 that his government's goal is to keep children in the classroom, as high school teachers have announced a one-day strike beginning next Tuesday. Ford also said the provincial government is doing 'everything' to strike a deal with educators.

We’re only a few hours away from a scheduled one-day walkout on Wednesday, when public high school teachers in Ontario will withdraw their services.

A one-day shutdown, if it occurs, won’t cripple the education system, but we’re told that there will likely be further disruptions if contract talks continue to stall, and that’s only with the public high school teachers.

READ MORE: Ontario public high school teachers union announces tentative 1-day walkout

The elementary school teachers, the high school and elementary school teachers in the Catholic boards, and the French teachers, are all in various stages of threatening job action because of unproductive contract negotiations.

In Ontario, we’ve seen this play out before and it usually doesn’t end well.

The easy and uninformed reaction by some will be to fall back on that old “greedy teachers” mantra that’s been used by past governments, but that assertion ignores some of the very legitimate concerns that have yet to be dealt with.

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Ontario teachers’ union escalates job action, negotiations stall
Ontario teachers’ union escalates job action, negotiations stall

Parents of children who attend class in older schools with drafty classrooms are angered that the government of Premier Doug Ford cancelled millions of dollars of infrastructure funding for boards of education.

Cuts to operating budgets have caused school boards to lay off thousands of teachers, which have caused larger class sizes and also forced those boards to reduce course options for students with post-secondary education aspirations.

READ MORE: Class size changes will mean 10,000 fewer Ontario teachers over next 5 years, FAO says

And let’s be clear; these are not teachers’ union talking points, they’re real challenges that have manifested themselves since the changes were enacted.

Unfortunately, these reforms seem to follow an all too familiar pattern by this government of simply blowing up anything instituted by the previous government and cobbling together a replacement with no consultation or input from the stakeholders.

That certainly happened with the ill-fated autism funding reforms and some of the health care delivery changes being announced and now, with education reform.

The changes being made by the Ford government are certainly different and cheaper. But are they an improvement?

The rub here might be a difference in ideology.

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Hundreds of rallies across Ontario held against Ford government cuts to education
Hundreds of rallies across Ontario held against Ford government cuts to education

Some conservatives may think that a more efficient education system is one that saves tax dollars, whereas others feel that a more efficient system best prepares our students to excel.

No one is suggesting that the government simply throw more money at the system, but we are demanding that they stop the finger-pointing and political bombast and undertake a serious and informed discussion about improving, not crippling our education system.

Bill Kelly is the host of the Bill Kelly Show on Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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