Every single K-12 education-sector contract in Ontario expires on Aug. 31.
I don't want to sound naive on this matter. I'm well aware that in every round of negotiations known to us in the past 15 to 20 years, nothing serious gets tabled until well after the last agreement has expired. Preliminary discussions on what the discussions will be about along with notices of intent to bargain
However, that shouldn't stop more of my media colleagues. Should it?
Let's consider a few things, aside from the fact B.C. teachers are on the picket lines over many of the same issues that could rear their heads in Ontario in the year ahead.
- Bill 122 passed before the May election and it's now governing how the pending round of collective agreements will be negotiated. Which means a legislated and regulated series of central bargaining tables where all the big-money questions will be negotiated.
- With the Liberals' election as a majority government, sanity may prevail and we won't see a resumption of the silliness that happened with the fall 2012 byelections and Bill 115 in an attempt to win a single seat. However you also didn't see an enthusiastic, blanket endorsement of the Liberals in the 2014 election as happened in 2011 and 2007.
- Since re-election, the government has been quite clear (see its Metrolinx response) that no collective agreement will include more money. If there are wage and benefit increases, those amounts need be negotiated out of monies found elsewhere in the system.
- Declining student enrolment has not disappeared as a real factor-- while most boards are seeing small rebounds in their youngest grades, all will still feel the real impact of fewer students. Particularly within a four-year high school program. Despite over a decade of declining enrolment, education funding in Ontario has continued to grow. There will be caps on spending and part of that may include job losses and rationalization of programs and services to match lower student populations. We need to let go of the false assumption there will be no job losses in our schools -- within a per-pupil funding and allotment system, there's no way to avoid these changes when the number of pupils drops. This is already happening and if you don't believe me ask your closest high school teacher how many surplus "lines" they have at their school for September.
Given how ugly contracts were for the 2012-13 school year, is Ontario up for a repeat of this in 2014-15? What levers get moved in which direction to keep K-12 sector spending within the government's own stated caps while rationalizing the system (particularly in secondary schools) for continued declining enrolment? Are both sides prepared for a Sunshine List release in 2015 that will show the largest-ever number of educators earning over six figures?
We need to start talking about this and the sooner the better.