The recent labour dispute between education workers and the province of Ontario has been heating up over the holiday season, and gathered speed in early 2020.
As of today (January 16th), all 4 teacher unions in Ontario are all planning labour action escalating to rotating strikes.
The province accuses ‘the unions’ (not the teachers) of pressing the government for a greater increase to salaries (beyond 1%); the unions are adamant that their fight is about class sizes, mandatory Elearning, and other cuts to education programming. The truth is that it’s all of the above.
It’s ALL about money: both the province and unions are guilty of sugar coating their perspectives to suit their motives, but it all comes down to the Benjamins (or…the Bordens…but no one really knows who that guy is to we might as well use the American equivalent).
As a ‘have not’ province in serious debt ($324 billion and change), it’s safe to say there isn’t enough money in Ontario to go around. Moreover, with the cost of living and real estate increasing exponentially, Ontarian’s can only be taxed so much.
Based on these numbers, it’s easy to see the predicament of our current government and their austerity policies, including those impacting public education.
On the other hand, it’s also easy to see the plight of education workers, parents and students who want a first class education system, funded accordingly.
Hmm…what to do…
As a lowly teacher who sees the education system day in and day out, I have some ideas, but no one asks employees about ideas to save money and improve an organization. That only happens on Undercover Boss when millionaires secretly work in their own businesses, and in doing so realize everything they’re doing wrong. I wish.
I’d love to have a sit down with Mr. Lecce or Mr. Ford and give them my perspective, however, seeing as that’s pretty much impossible and neither of these men will be donning a wig, adding facial hair and pretending to be a new occasional teacher learning the ropes via a Undercover Boss scheme, I’m left with writing a blog…
The truth is that if the government, school boards and unions really wanted to save money there are many more logical methods than cutting programming or funding for students. Moreover, with the cash they’d save they could also most likely compensate teachers accordingly with inflation.
Here are my top 5 ideas for saving money in the Ontario education system:
1. Eliminate multiple school boards
This is by far the SINGLE LARGEST SQUANDERING OF EDUCATION FUNDS by our province. We have 4 school boards – all competing for the same students – and compounding education system costs x4!
Although Ontario is one of three provinces to be constitutionally bound to have a Catholic school board, it is not something that can’t be changed as other Canadian provinces removed this constitutional stipulation in the 1990’s.
Moreover, having a language division within each of the religious affiliations compounds the issue. The amount of overlap in educational positions (especially high ranking ones), buildings (for example, the small town of Valley East in Greater Sudbury – population 22,000ish- has FOUR HIGH SCHOOLS, each from a separate school board), specialized program funding, etc. is ridiculous.
Eliminating or reducing Ontario school boards to 2 (to save face constitutionally) would save billions of dollars in the education system.
2. Eliminate multiple unions
This argument follows suit to the aforementioned one focused on school boards. WHY is it necessary that teachers in Ontario have four different unions? With multiple unions comes the same overlap of funds stated above in regards to: positions, buildings, costs associated with negotiations with separate unions, one at a time, etc.
Eliminating or amalgamating teachers unions is another easy way to save some cash without impacting students or teachers.
3. Cut the fat of middle management
People who don’t work in the education system are blissfully unaware of the wasteful middle management positions in each school board across our fair province. You’d think education employees would include teachers, school principals, superintendents and directors of education. Oh, no.
In each school board, there are groups of employees (former teachers) with various ‘titles’ who work at the board level in ‘supporting’ teachers – usually that support is in the clear direction of the Ministry of Education’s latest trend. These positions are not usually sought after as they involve leaving the classroom to go into schools and ‘suggest’ teaching methods to other teachers. To sweeten the deal, their salaries usually equal that of a teacher at max pay.
If 20 of these positions exists in each individual school board in the province, the savings could be in the millions. Trust me, few teachers would be sad to see these positions disappear.
4. Close/amalgamate/repurpose empty schools
This is (and has been) a contentious issue throughout Ontario for the past decade or so. Our province is full of half empty schools. Moreover, each time a school closing plan is enacted, there is a lengthy consultation process where school boards usually end up caving to keep their enrolment (they do need to fight other school boards in their same area for students, you know).
Due to declining student populations, the bottom line is that schools either need to close, amalgamate, or become community hubs repurposed for more than education – for example, perhaps including other government agencies such as post office, taxation, police, ministry of natural resources, etc.
The province needs to step in and make this happen – forcing the hands of school boards more concerned about their own declining enrolment.
5. Get rid of the Ontario College of Teachers
I’ve been a teacher for over 15 years, and I have to tell you that I have no clear idea of what the Ontario College of Teachers does. I get their magazine quarterly where I skim the articles and jump to the blue pages which detail all the teachers who have recently been reprimanded for some things as small and ridiculous as raising their voices inappropriately (requires counselling) to as horrid as sexual assault (off to jail).
I’m also aware that they have elections in teaching ridings…although I’ve never voted for anyone, nor do I know what those representatives would do.
There are logically some clerical issues they take care of, such as verifying union affiliation and teaching certificates from universities that I’m sure the Ministry of Education could oversee ; this could be handled by a couple clerks in exchange for the $150+ fee each teacher in the province pays for an OCT membership each calendar year.
Realistically, I don’t think many would miss the OCT, however I do think that we’d all benefit from the funds that would be saved by its extinction.
So, you see, it is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY in Ontario when it comes to the education portfolio. It’s a shame that the most lucrative methods of saving funds in education are being ignored by education stakeholders.
Sadly, instead of eliminating meaningless infrastructure, both the province and unions alike have chosen to squabble over cuts to students and teachers – those at the heart of the system.
What’s your opinion on ways to save money in the education portfolio in Ontario without impacting students and teachers? Share your thoughts in the comments below.