Friday, January 4, 2013

Thanks for the Contract, Laurel!

In a cab ride yesterday, I happened to catch Laurel Broten on the radio explaining how necessary it was to first deny teachers' right to negotiate, then impose a contract, and then repeal bill 115 to make the teachers happy again, all to help decrease the insane provincial deficit.  What a hero.

My concern with her speech (and everything about this) is she presents part of the argument as if it's in its entirety.  She leaves out crucial information, and some information she includes is misleading.  It's beyond a biased presentation and sliding into propaganda territory.  And it's so easy to simplify it all to "teachers are greedy" sound-bites instead of elucidating honestly on the entire dilemma.

She suggested that unions walked away from negotiating tables because of money.  But back in April, OSSTF negotiated some substantial money-savings initiatives, and the government walked away.

In a memo from Ken Coran, president of OSSTF, dated April 23rd, he outlined a number of measures the board could take to cut costs dramatically, but the government rejected the proposal:
   On April 18th, in discussions with representatives from the Ministry of Education and with the Ontario Public School Boards Association, OSSTF/FEESO tabled a proposal on behalf of its teacher and occasional teacher members designed to address financial concerns previously expressed by the government.
   The proposal included 0% wage increases in each of the next 2 years, and only a cost of living adjustment in years 3 and 4. This would have created an equitable and manageable wage freeze.
   Also included in the proposal was a plan to encourage the retirement of more senior teachers to be replaced by new teachers. This would not only save millions of dollars through reduced salaries, but would also create much needed employment opportunities for a large number of certified teachers unable to find work.
   Further, OSSTF/FEESO proposed the 15% reduction of high-cost central administrative positions and a moratorium on Ministry of Education initiatives for the next 4 years.
   Finally, OSSTF/FEESO’s proposal to create employee run benefits plans would have not only allowed school boards to remove unfunded liabilities from their books but would have provided the opportunity for ongoing efficiencies and cost savings.
   Each of these proposals would have resulted in significant and real savings to the government. None of these proposals would have had a negative impact on front line services delivered to students.
   Despite the unprecedented offer made by OSSTF/FEESO to forego salary increases, as well as proposals to find efficiencies through other cost cutting measures, the government rejected the proposal immediately. OSSTF/FEESO is disappointed that its efforts to avoid needless conflict in education have been rejected.
   Kenneth Coran, President
I fear that not only is this Broden's tactic not really about money, but that it's a very subversive means to erode unions.  In Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein outlines the reasons for and results of a sweeping move to eradicate or paralyze unions around the world since the early 70s in order to give governments full control over people - entirely in democratically-run countries - building up to a closer examination of the invasion of Iraq.  It's a frightening prospect.

And a comment on facebook gives one pause (I'll withhold the name),
I haven't done the legal research yet, but thirty-five years as a lawyer tells me that, if you impose a burden through legislation, that burden will last only as long as the legislation is in effect. Calling it a contract doesn't change the fact that it was imposed by force of law.
But what I'm interested in is Coran's proposal, and the money we could save the government if we all pitch in compared to Broten's imposed contract for teaching staff.

Coran proposed a wage freeze for two years, and as far as I understand right now, our new contract includes a wage freeze for two years and a mandatory leave of three days for all teaching staff and admin (which works out to about a 1% wage reduction).  These are similar to Rae Days, except this time the three days won't be taken randomly with supply teachers filling in at a far lower cost, instead the schools will be completely closed for three extra days - likely individual days attached to holidays.  In all this mess, nobody has lamented the loss of teaching time.  The Education Act strictly requires a credit to have "instruction provided for at least 110 hours but no more than 120 hours" (which makes one wonder about the legitimacy of MSIP in which NO instruction is provided).  Courses will be short hours if school closes for three extra days next year.  Why isn't this a problem for anyone - particularly the Minister of Education??  I'm fine with three days off, but let teachers get a supply teacher for those days - or hold them during the exam schedule when teachers often work from home anyway.  My courses are too full to lose three days of teaching, dammit!

But the bit that the government likely wasn't fond of was the 15% reduction at the board office and a moratorium on Ministry of Education initiatives for the next 4 years.  Boy, if you want to save a fortune, that's the way to do it.

When I first started teaching in 1991, the NDP was in power in Ontario, and, as a young, childless and energetic teacher, I joined all sorts of committees.  The one I most remember was a new initiative towards Outcomes-Based Education that started in about '93.  Tons of consultants set up films and information for us to understand the new initiative.  We spend hours and hours figuring out the best way to completely re-order the school for a more open-learning approach.  I was totally sold on this new method of teaching.  Then two years later, when were we're about to implement all our hard work, the government changed, and it all went away.  I was shocked at how fast programs are dropped when the keys change hands. And I've avoided committee work every since.  Now that I work in a program similar to the one we almost implemented in the 90s, I see problems with it from a different vantage point.

Here's what works in education:  Most people need to be cajoled to do the work necessary to help them learn some content and skills, but some kids are self-starters and could work better in an outcomes-based or future-forum type of program.  I think that should be an option for kids, but not the primary method of teaching.  Special programs have come and gone over and over, and a mix of programs we already have has been shown repeatedly to be the best means of delivery.  Yet every new government wants to re-vamp the programs under the guise that new is always improved.   And much of the change in program is really just a re-wording of current practices.  How much money was spent changing "poster" to "anchor-chart"?  And how important is it that we alter how we speak about education every time the government changes?  Now we're into myriad meetings spent differentiating assessment for learning from assessment of learning.  Just shoot me.

It's a huge danger when Ministers of Education create work just for the sake of looking busy - or doing something with education today.  Whatever you can think up?  It's likely been tried before.  And the reality is that many teachers are pretty well-trained professionals that could provide incredible, workable ideas for no extra charge.  Give us a brainstorming web-site of ideas that work in Ontario, and you can let go quite a number of consultants.  And save us a lot of long boring P.D. meetings wherein we learn the new vocabulary yet again.

If the government wants to save some cash, they should take fairly from everyone's pocket - including their own.          

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