Hundreds of teachers across the GTA received layoff notices this week, with more expected.
On Tuesday, Ontario’s second-largest school board – the Peel Region District School Board – told more than 300 teachers that they were being “surplused” for the next school year. Wednesday, they were joined by the Halton Public School Board which told about 150 elementary teachers they would be “potentially redundant,” though the board hopes to call some of those teachers back.
Notices have also gone out to teachers in Toronto, Dufferin-Peel, Hamilton, and Halton, but parents and teachers are still wondering what will this mean in the classroom? And is the provincial government going back on its promise not to cut frontline jobs?
Education Minister Lisa Thompson has said repeatedly that the surplus letters are not cuts to teachers.
“There will be no involuntary job loss associated with our education plan and how we are moving forward to fix a broken system,” says Thompson.
The Progressive Conservatives’ plan involves increasing average class sizes in Grades 4 through 12 and mandatory online courses for high school students.
“I have to be very, very clear, what we’re hearing about coming from Peel region, is a routine process that is happening in every school board across Ontario. This time of year is when school boards take a look at their roster, they identify who’s coming back from maternity leave, they’re identifying who is retiring, they are identifying who might have an assignment to take them to the board or who’s coming back from posibily a coaching assignment,” says Thompson. “The fact of the matter is what we’re hearing about these recent weeks is a routine, absolute process that is done year in, year out.”
Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, which has sent notices to 170 teachers, told CityNews in a statement that the annual review was influenced by the education changes.
“This is a typical part of the annual staffing process which has been exacerbated by changes to secondary class size ratios and other Ministry changes,” says Bruce Campbell, spokesperson for the DPCDSB. “Some of those teachers who have received a surplus notice will be placed in permanent teaching vacancies, while others may be placed in long-term occasional assignments. It is expected that all those who received surplus letters will retain full-time employment with the board.”
For any Ontario teachers who don’t get a new posting, the move from full-time to occasional or supply teacher status would result in less pay, fewer benefits and decreased job stability. Still, Thompson wouldn’t address repeated questions about whether the move from a stable, full-time position to occasional work should be viewed as a job loss. Instead Thompson responded to reporters’ direct questions with an unrelated statement when asked Wednesday at Queen’s Park.
“What I consider is the student achievement that we need to have as our number one priority,” she said. “We’re working with our school boards to ensure that we have the best teachers in front of the students and to maintain confidence for parents across Ontario.”
When asked a second time, she added, “We’re taking a look at how our school boards are working through the system and I can tell you that there will be no involuntary job loss.”
New Democrat Education critic Marit Stiles doesn’t buy it.
“It’s not surprising we’re seeing 369 teacher job losses at Peel, we also saw another 300 in Ottawa, we’ve seen hundreds across the province already,” she says. “We are still anticipating at the end of the day its going to be more like 10,000 teacher or education jobs lost.”
But labelling a change in status a job loss isn’t clear cut and depends on teachers’ collective agreements, says Muneeza Sheikh, an employment lawyer with Levitt LLP.
“Does it seem like a job loss when you’re moved from full-time to part-time and your compensation is reflected accordingly? Absolutely,” she says. “Has there been a violation of the terms of the collective agreement? The answer is no.”
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner says any move from full-time to part-time should be considered a lost job.
“It’s a full-time-equivalent job loss absolutely. It’s certainly difficult for that teacher and their family to know that they have a permanent full-time job and now you’re an occasional part-time, you lose that regular paycheck that your family needs.”
Thompson says boards will receive their funding notices by the end of the month, which could reduce the number of teachers moved to part-time status. The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board, for example, anticipates that all teachers will retain their full time status by September.