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Ford government's offer to lower class sizes called misleading by union

Last Updated Oct 25, 2019 at 12:41 pm EST

Vacant desks are pictured at the front of a empty classroom THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

The Ford government has proposed lowering class sizes in contract talks with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said on Thursday that the government has put an offer on the table which would see class sizes lowered from 28 to 25.

Currently, the board-wide average for high school class sizes are at 22 students.

In exchange, Lecce says he wants the union to follow along with the government’s 1 per cent cap on public sector salaries.

OSSTF president Harvey Bischof calls the government’s “olive branch” offer misleading, noting it would see the government remove all reference to class size limits, essentially allowing the province to see the number of students per class climb indefinitely.

“A move from the current class size ratio of 22:1 to 25:1 would still remove roughly 5,000 teachers from our high schools. And with the removal of locally-enforceable class size caps, there would essentially be no limits on the size of classes into which Ontario students could be squeezed.”

“We cannot and will not accept the government’s proposal on class sizes. We will instead continue to advance proposals that are good for students, good for public education and good for the future of Ontario,” said Bischof.

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association says while it is “encouraged” by Lecce’s flexibility when comes to class size, they still have concerns with the government’s latest proposal.

“Such an increase would still cause a number of challenges for students. The smaller average increase in class size we saw in September (22 to approximately 22.5) led to significant challenges for students and school boards, and we expect that the situation will only get worse if it were to move to 25:1,” said OPSBA President Cathy Abraham.

The issue of class sizes is one of several creating tension as the government and the union work towards striking a new labour deal.

Contracts with all of the province’s education workers expired at the end of August, and the government has been embroiled in testy negotiations with all of the province’s education unions since the school year began.

It narrowly averted a strike with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, representing 55,000 workers such as custodial staff and teaching assistants.

Both the OSSTF and its counterpart representing elementary school teachers have all sought conciliation as labour talks continue.

Strike votes have been happening over the few days in the GTA and they’re expected to wrap up province wide on November 15th.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report