Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario

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Good deal for schools

April 16, 2005

The Ontario government's $960 million settlement with the union representing public elementary teachers has been billed as a deal that will buy peace in Ontario schools over the next four years.

After eight years of strikes and work-to-rule campaigns under Conservative governments, peace is a valuable prize, especially for students, who lost precious class time and extracurricular activities. It also is a prize for parents.

But the $960 million promises to buy a great deal more than peace.

The 33-per-cent increase in preparation time it provides should mean teachers will be primed and more motivated to teach. The 1,300 new gym, music, arts, library and literacy and numeracy specialists it pays for means kids will get the well-rounded education and extracurricular instruction they have been denied.

And though not out of line with recent settlements, the deal's 2.55 per cent average wage increase for each of the next four years serves as a welcome acknowledgement of the important contribution teachers make.

On top of that, the deal is the result of the kind of collective bargaining that was called for, yet never implemented, after the Tories took total control over education funding but left teachers to negotiate with individual school boards, which had nothing to bring to the table.

It is no wonder local boards are enthusiastic about the settlement Education Minister Gerard Kennedy has produced. Toronto District School Board education director David Reid calls it "a thrilling outcome" because "it's giving school boards the resources to get things done."

Having negotiated the big items, Kennedy left local boards to work out strictly local issues. As that should not cause any major problems, contracts should be signed well before the June deadline the teachers' union set for starting another work-to-rule campaign.

With this agreement as a template, Kennedy is confident he can strike a similar deal with high-school teachers. We hope their unions will agree.