Friday, October 17, 2008

Elementary teachers want to narrow funding gap

The Sault Star: 2008 October 17

$700 more per pupil for high schools

Elementary school teachers are calling on the province to close the funding gap between primary and secondary schools as part of their new collective agreement.

Elementary schools get $711 less per student than high schools, according to David Clegg, president of the Elementary Teacher's Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

"Does the province believe elementary students deserve the same resources as secondary students?" he asked at a press conference Friday in Sault Ste. Marie.

Clegg was in the Sault as part of a cross-province tour, laying out the federation's demands to the Ontario government for local unions and the media.

But Algoma District School Board head Mario Turco doesn't believe this is the place to argue that case.

"While it is commendable the ETFO is concerned about funding, that is not an issue for negotiations."

He urged the federation to return to the provincial bargaining table so his board would be able to negotiate a better deal for local elementary school teachers.

The previous four-year collective agreement expired at the end of August but federation-province talks have been at a standstill since May. The situation worsened after Premier Dalton McGuinty's "ultimatum" last month for the teacher's group to reach an agreement by Nov. 30 or risk losing a 12-per-cent pay hike over the next four-year contract, said Clegg.

The federation does not want to enter another four-year deal without new funding measures in place.

The funding gap has meant fewer textbooks, computers and musical instruments for first through eighth graders. Current funding provides only one teacher-librarian for every 750 students and one guidance teacher for every 5,000, said Clegg.

A former grade eight teacher, he said class sizes are enormous and family studies and design and technology programs have all but been axed.

"Some (students) haven't been engaged because there isn't the breadth of programs and subject areas that allow them to connect to school," he said, citing the practical math applications in design and technology classes.

In Algoma District, aging schools and declining enrolment are hurting teachers and schools, said Vel Liut, president of the local teacher's union.

"We have few people in each school to wear many hats, but we still have large class sizes in those schools," said Liut, who admitted school closures may soon be a necessity.

Turco said a lack of funding and cut programs are nothing new to secondary schools as well as elementary schools.

"There is always going to be a shortage of money," he said, adding the board is looking for ways to re-implement some of the lost programs within the current budget.

The local union and ADSB enter negotiations Wednesday.

"If history repeats itself, it will be slow but I do pride myself and our local that we do have a good relationship with this school board," said Liut.