Our schools in Kapuskasing and Hearst benefit from some of the most able and dedicated educators I know. From what I have seen, they are energetic, caring and very able to carry out the responsibilities that have been assigned to them. They are also hard-pressed to meet the difficult challenges before them, and top of mind here is our shrinking student population.
Today’s educators face the uncertainty brought on by the fact their employment is linked to the number of students in our schools, and try as we may to keep as many of them on as we can, each year DSBONE is forced to let qualified teachers go because we don’t have enough students. This problem is not unique to our board, but that does not make the problem any less.
In this environment, the province announced that because of a growing deficit, public sector employees would have to shoulder some of the responsibility to bring costs down. This was not an unreasonable expectation and I believe that most in the public sector accepted that. The problem was just how much of that responsibility would fall on our teachers, people already stressed because their future employment is threatened.
I believe that then Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government expected too much from a single group. Former Education Minister Laurel Broten was ruthless in her zeal to carry out that agenda, stripping teachers of their right to bargain and taking back benefits they had earned at the negotiating table in previous years. No wonder teacher unions pushed back.
And so the few teachers who put in extra time to bring to their students the benefit of their talents and experience outside the classroom were “asked” to withdraw. As a result, sports teams, clubs, other activities and events, even taking a student, who is experiencing difficulty in one area, aside to offer him/her one-on-one instruction outside the classroom, lost access to teacher support. And with that, teacher federations took their fight with the province to the classroom.
Over time, teacher unions in all school systems, with the exception of ours, settled. Thus, the only schools not always able to offer extracurriculars were English Public Schools. Not an enviable position for our schools, or staff at a time when students and parents have the choice of four school systems.
OSSTF, which represents our high school teachers, has since asked their members to reinstate their participation in extracurricular activities. ETFO, which represents our elementary school teachers, is so far refusing.
I know that students at our schools are largely unaffected by the dispute and I commend our teachers for their caring approach. I nevertheless hope that ETFO representatives will accept that being the only group not supporting extracurricular activities, at a time when students can choose to go elsewhere, is neither helpful or wise.
Your thoughts are appreciated.