Thursday, April 16, 2009

Quick hits -- bargaining, two accommodation review issues

Three quick hits tonight as time is pressing:

First, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and public school boards across the province are negotiating to an April 24 deadline on the shotgun-wedding February "provincial framework agreement" facilitated by the Ministry of Education. This crossed the desk today-- the first notice of talks breaking down between an ETFO local (an occasional teachers' local) and the District School Board of Niagara. This as ETFO reports six occasional teacher locals have ratified or tentative agreements in place, along with three contract-teacher locals. Time's a ticking to the deadline-- the ministry released a "B-memo" April 9 spelling out exactly what each board (any by extension its elementary teachers) would stand to lose in dollars and cents if they can't ink deals by April 24.
Oh, and don't worry about a strike-- it's the end of April, one- or two-week extensions would likely be given by the minister as long as bargaining continues in good faith. Many strike votes were simply suspended when the February framework was agreed to and have not been held. Teachers could work-to-rule heading into the last six weeks of the school year, but the chance they'd be willing to go on strike pay heading into summer vacation is rare. Let's face it, after that last week of June, no parent or student is going to give a rat's patootie if teachers are on strike or pay any attention to the issue until, say, they start cruising the back-to-school deals in August.

Second, a tidbit on the continuing fallout from an accommodation review of Niagara District Secondary School in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The board, in an unconventional decision, decided despite the numbers and dollars at play at NDSS, to give the school a two-year reprieve from closure. The challenge was simply to allow the community to work with the school and do whatever it could to increase enrolment, with trustees saying if enrolment reached that predetermined level the school would stay open. If it continued to drop as projected, the school would close. The larger issues at play drew some commentary in the local community paper. Interesting.

Third, something posted on previously, the Simcoe County District School Board's accommodation review encompassing high schools in Midland, Penetanguishene, Elmvale, Stayner and Collingwood. In the face of a committee report that was a "consensus" status quo, five-school option, school board staff have very predictably recommended to trustees closure of three schools and the construction of a new, larger school closer to Wasaga Beach. A few issues with this article-- the lead paragraph states:
Staff recommendations override suggestions made by the 40-plus member accomodation review committee for the north and west secondary schools.

Arrrgh. First-- the staff recommendations haven't overridden anything until a trustee vote and decision chooses those recommendations over the ones presented by the ARC. This lead shows an outright misunderstanding of the purpose of the ARC, which is to provide the affected communities with opportunities to make their own recommendations to trustees. The article and the sources quoted within also show a poor understanding and very typical reaction-- the board's decision is predetermined simply because staff members have stuck to their original recommendation or a recommendation that goes against an ARC's recommendations. In this case, the communities dug in their heels and didn't consider making any recommendation that might threaten their own high school. IE: Stayner had ideas of who should close, as long as it wasn't Stayner. This is how status quo consensus ARC reports come to exist-- the communities can't agree on one recommendation that would involve a school closure and so the de facto fallback is to say "go ahead and spend money (you don't have) on keeping every school open and giving each of them all the necessary facility and program upgrades." If staff members had ever agreed to that position, they wouldn't have asked trustees to begin the review in the first place. So it should come as no surprise when an ARC's recommendations don't address a need to reduce pupil places and upgrade facility that staff members would return to recommending options that complete those needs.
These communities might heed the ministry's own funding memo and regulations for 2009-10, where it clearly tells boards status quo is not an option in an era of declining enrolment. The days of receiving top-up funding that allowed boards to take five, six or eight years to respond to vacant pupil places is ending and the ministry and minister are firmly telling trustees they will turn off the tap much sooner than in the past if boards don't "respond" to their vacant pupil spaces quickly-- meaning within two or three years at most.