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Catholic teachers reach tentative contract deal with province
March 13, 2020
Kristin Rushowy

Ontario’s Catholic teachers have reached a tentative deal with the province, becoming the first teachers’ union to do so in the current round of contract negotiations.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) said the agreement was reached with “the Ontario Catholic Trustees’ Association and the Government of Ontario on central terms for a new collective agreement.

“Details of the agreement remain confidential pending ratification. In accordance with the Association’s ratification procedures, should the OECTA Provincial Executive and local unit presidents recommend approval, Catholic teachers will participate in a province-wide vote on April 7 and 8.

“Effective immediately, all OECTA strike action is suspended during the ratification process.”

Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters at Queen’s Park that the provisional agreement is good for teachers, students, parents and the government.

Lecce expressed optimism that it could be a roadmap toward settlements with the other three teacher unions.

“We believe that it hopefully will build momentum for further deals that ensure stability for every child,” he said.

The Catholic teachers, province and school boards were called back to the bargaining table last week by the provincial mediator and had kept up talks since.

The teachers have been engaged in a work to rule, and had been holding frequent one-day, province-wide strikes, though those were recently put on hold.

The province has also held talks with the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario as well as the AEFO, representing French-board teachers.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation is the lone teachers’ union that has not been called back to restart talks.

The province has committed to full-day Kindergarten and more funding for special education. It had also offered larger class sizes in high school -- from last year’s average of 22 students to 23, but down from its original proposal to jump to 28.

Lecce has also said that instead of mandating four online courses in high school, the province would require two, but giving parents an opt-out provision.

Sources have told the Star that the tentative deal also waters down Regulation 274, a hiring provision that gives preference for long-term contracts and new positions to teachers who have been on the supply list the longest -- a rule brought in to curb nepotism.

Lecce has repeatedly said the government wants merit-based hiring so principals can choose the best fit.

The Catholic deal is said to allow roughly one-third of new hires not to have to be among the most senior supply teachers.

Sources told the Star that the province is close to an accord with the French-language teachers and making progress with the elementary teachers.

However, the situation with high school teachers remains tense.

The rotating teachers’ strikes combined with the COVID-19 pandemic closing Ontario schools for two weeks after March Break moves the province closer to a situation where the Education Relations Commission could rule the school year is in jeopardy given the amount of time students will have been out of class.

In that case, teachers’ unions without contracts could end up with imposed settlements.