Teachers’ union rejects provincial offer to slightly walk-back class size increase

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The union that represents secondary school teachers across Ontario is accusing the Ontario government of making a misleading proposal, as contract negotiations continue between the two sides.

The province delivered its proposal to the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) on Thursday, which included reducing the funded average high school class size from 28 students to 25 students.

However, the OSSTF said the proposal is still higher than the previously funded average of 22 students per class. The union added that the offer is also misleading, as it would remove any class size limits imposed by local collective agreements with school boards around the province.

OSSTF President Harvey Bischof called the proposal “worse” than the Ford government’s original plan to increase class sizes to 28 students.

“A move from the current class size ratio of 22:1 to 25:1 would still remove roughly 5,000 teachers from our high schools. And with the removal of locally-enforceable class size caps, there would essentially be no limits on the size of classes into which Ontario students could be squeezed,” said Bischof in a statement. “An agreement on our part to remove those caps would be an agreement to undermine the learning environments in our schools. It would frankly amount to a betrayal of our students.”

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce, who announced the province’s proposal on Thursday, called the offer “reasonable.”

“I am disappointed OSSTF has decided to ignore it and move closer to job action,” he said in a statement. “My team is ready to continue meeting to negotiate a deal that is focused on our students, ensures our children remain in class, and provides the predictability our parents deserve.”

The OSSTF began holding strike votes among its members week, while additional bargaining dates between the union, school boards, and the government are scheduled for later this month and into November. The union will finish conducting its strike votes by November 15.

“We cannot and will not accept the government’s proposal on class sizes. We will instead continue to advance proposals that are good for students, good for public education and good for the future of Ontario,” Bischof said.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario is also currently holding a strike vote of its own. Its members are expected to wrap up voting on October 30.

Both groups of teachers have been without a contract since the end of August.

Earlier this month, the Ford government narrowly avoided a strike by Ontario’s 55,000 educational support workers. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) reached the tentative three-year deal with the province hours before its members were set to walk, a move that would have forced schools across the province to close.

– With files from Miranda Chant