Dividing and Conquering Educators in Ontario

This is an emotional time here in Ontario. The education system is certainly under attack by the Ford Government and I would say nerves are getting a bit frayed.

Not only are class sizes going up but more and more teachers are being put on notice that they have no position for next year. Andrew Campbell is doing an excellent job of cataloguing the surplus notices as they come out almost daily in Ontario. His list is now 11 pages long and it makes for depressing reading.

The notion that these redundancies will be covered by teachers retiring makes no sense to me. The way things work is that teachers with the least amount of seniority are declared surplus to school or the system first, then, much later in the year, some will be taken back as other teachers retire.

The document talks about “attrition protection” – a fund that will allocate money to boards so that younger teachers will be hired back if their position is cut. This seems to be a very complicated way around the current issue. In other words (I think) if the number of retirements is low, the Ministry of Education will allocate money to school boards to hire back its younger teachers.  This, to me, means that the Ministry will in effect be keeping the class sizes lower.

I don’t get it.

The shuffling and readjusting continues. One new measure brought up during the budget announcement has to do with the repeal of Regulation 274. This is not a budget issue, but it is one that could distract educators as they work to oppose the current actions of the Ministry.

Regulation 274 was brought in in 2012 by the Liberal Government as a way to make sure only the most qualified teachers be considered for new jobs. Principals were obliged to interview a prepared list of five candidates and these five were the ones with the most seniority on the long-term occasional (LTO) listing.

Unions liked this measure as they said it took out any favouritism in the hiring process. Education administrators didn’t like it because they were no longer able to choose the best candidate for the job – they were told who they could consider and it was a very narrow list.

Making an announcement now that the Ministry will be getting rid of the regulation has the potential to divide educators at a crucial moment. I have already seen this happening in some of the Facebook conversations I have been a part of. In one conversation I wrote that the end of Regulation 274 would allow for a more merit-based hiring system than what we have had since 2012. While my comments received some support from administrators I know I also received this comment from a teacher I used to work with. Referring to the time before the regulation he wrote:

We had a nepotistic system which was completely controlled by principals, many who were incompetent leaders. This was an improvement because teachers had to prove themselves with successful LTOs before they could move ahead.

He continues later in the conversation:

So the principals can now go back to hiring those that they can bully or someone’s relative. THAT will be great for education.

It only took a few hours for this to flare up. We have to remember that there are some profound differences in opinion amongst educators in Ontario. There has to be, just like in any other profession. What is important to remember now is that it is very easy to exploit these differences.

The hiring process should be discussed and debated and it certainly needs to be equitable, but this is not the time for this debate. The current government is working hard to syphon off millions of dollars on the backs of students and teachers. That is the issue, we can’t start fighting amongst ourselves.

If we become divided we become weaker. We become easier to isolate and easier to manage. It is very good to remember that it was Doug Ford’s predecessor, Mike Harris who took administrators out of the teacher federations and helped set up the ‘us and them’ dynamic reflected in the comments above.

A house divided will surely fall. Our profession is under a great deal of stress right now, let’s not make ourselves a pushover for those who currently hold the reigns of power.

 

Advertisements

Who Monitors Education in Ontario?

Trustees have a fundamental duty to rebuild the essential democratic linkages between citizens and board employees, who are in essence public servants. How to do that, is a fundamental question to all those that aspire to elected office.

Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees

Education is political and to forget this can lead to fundamental problems on how the system is run and managed in Ontario and other jurisdictions across the country.

In an excellent post this week, Four Questions Ottawa Citizens Should Ask Before Voting for Their New School Trustees, Dr Dragos Popa from the University of Ottawa has laid out four challenges for people running as public trustee in the 2018 Municipal elections. It would be a very good idea for all candidates to read this post and come up with clear answers to his challenges.

The public takes education for granted in this province. Unless you have a child in the system and even if you do have a child in the system, very few people have any sense of how public education is managed.

Even at the provincial level, there seems to be very little political will to seriously look at governance issues in public education. It seems that politicians and the public, in general, have surrendered up public scrutiny of the system to school board officials mainly because education is best left up to the experts.

This is a mistake and can lead to serious consequences. Dr Popa correctly points out that schools are nowhere nearly as ‘user-friendly’ as they should be. There is not the sense of public accountability that is more in evidence at the different levels of government. School officials are able to act with impunity because they know their actions are seldom challenged in the forum of public opinion.

To be fair, our education politicians are at a disadvantage. Years ago under Mike Harris, public education trustees salaries were discontinued, replaced with an honorarium as low as $5000.00 a year (The Fewer Schools Boards Act and the Toronto District School Board: Educational Restructuring 1997- 2003). School authority trustees are paid an honorarium at the same rate as was paid on December 1,1996 (Good Governance Guide, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association).

The problem with this is that politicians paid an honorarium cannot be expected to put in the time necessary to act as independent arbiters of school board staff policies and decisions. When it comes to governance issues in Ontario they simply do not play an effective role.

This may sound overly harsh, but it is not a criticism of the people who basically act as volunteers in the management of education in Ontario. I have worked as an unpaid board member before and I know that over time, a board member will become a ‘captive’ of management staff, the people responsible for supplying board members with the information they need to do their jobs.

This is a problem. Trustees are at best part-time employees of their school boards while the people they are charged with monitoring are full-time officials charged with maintaining a system that largely benefits these officials.

There is little public accountability in this system and there seems to be little interest in changing this dynamic. In fact, in a Globe and Mail article by Caroline Alphonso written in 2014 and updated in 2017, attempts by public school trustees in several school boards to raise their honorariums were reversed by the provincial government (Ontario orders school board trustees to cancel pay raises).

This leads me back to the original post by Dr Popa. He is correct in offering up important questions for new trustees to consider before the election, but do we have a system that actually encourages the necessary independence to actually challenge a system that is no longer accountable?

Is this a system that is truly public and accountable? Can we do better than this?