|Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty. (Reuters files)
TORONTO - The bargaining deadline for negotiated settlements has passed and parents deserve some certainty in the school system, Premier Dalton McGuinty said in an open letter Wednesday to the province's teachers.
"Today, Ontario teachers are among the highest paid in North America and have better working conditions. And you are worth every single penny," McGuinty says, noting test scores and graduation rates are up.
The letter arrived one day before a scheduled press conference with Education Minister Laurel Broten, who will discuss her plans regarding Bill 115 and the ongoing dispute with the province's public elementary and high school teachers.
Bill 115, the Putting Students First Act, empowers the minister to impose contracts on teachers and to ban strikes.
The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) didn't reach agreements with local school boards by the bill's deadline of midnight Jan. 1.
Members of both unions have voted to walk out in a day of protest if the McGuinty government uses the tools in Bill 115.
CUPE Ontario, which represents 55,000 school support workers, including maintenance staff and early childhood educators, reached a tentative agreement on Dec. 30.
ETFO and OSSTF call Bill 115 an attack on their constitutional right to collective bargaining.
Broten has required teachers to strike deals that include no pay increases, a frozen salary grid or foregone pay, and the end of a retirement gratuity that allows teachers to cash out some of their unused sick days.
McGuinty says in his message to teachers that the economic challenges facing the province — including a plan to balance the books by 2017-18 — require belt-tightening in the education sector.
Broten sent her own letter to school boards asking them to share the premier's missive with teachers.
"Over the coming days and weeks, teachers and support staff, as well as all those in the education sector, will be hearing a great deal about the government's next steps and what those steps mean for them.
"We feel it is very important that teachers and support staff hear all perspectives so they are fully informed about the government's actions," Broten says.