Uncertain start to school year for hundreds of thousands of Ontario kids as bargaining continues

Parents of hundreds of thousands of Ontario children can rest easy that the school year will start as planned Tuesday, but there’s still a chance of a teachers’ strike later this fall.

Ontario public elementary school teachers remain embroiled in tough negotiations with the province and its school boards, but after weekend meetings did not result in a deal, talks were suspended until Tuesday. But it’s not back to business as usual, as the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) is engaged in an ongoing work-to-rule campaign that asks members to refrain from field trips, meet-the-teacher-nights, fundraising and other administrative duties.

ETFO represents over 76,000 teachers across the province and unlike their Catholic and secondary school counterparts have yet to reach a tentative deal with the province. But Education Minister remains hopeful they, and the much smaller French teachers’ union, will negotiate a deal before there’s any further increase in job action.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young The last time Sandals promised that teacher negotiations was “not going to cost taxpayers one dollar more than when we started,” it actually ended up costing taxpayers $468 million.

“Although a deal has not yet been reached, progress has been made with the assistance of the mediator who has confirmed that the parties will resume face to face discussions on Tuesday,” read a statement from the minister’s office Friday night. “We have been assured by ETFO that students will start school on Tuesday as scheduled and that they will not experience a disruption to the start of the school year.”

But ETFO remains in a legal strike position, and with just five days notice could legally walk out at anytime this fall. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association have both struck tentative deals that must be ratified by members, with votes pending later in the fall. Some details must also be negotiated between local unions and their school boards.

Teachers in Ontario have been operating without a contract since the end of August 2014. A new bargaining framework that brought the school boards to a formalized central bargaining table exacerbated already tense discussions, which were dominated by the province’s commitment to “net zeores,” or the idea any wage increases must be offset by other savings.

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No official details of either the OECTA or the OSSTF deal have been released. However, media reports suggest those three-year contracts include modest raises as well as guarantees that class size and teacher prep time won’t be cut — key issues that prompted local high school unions to strike last fall in a move later declared illegal by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

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