TORONTO – Word late Friday that public high school teachers can resume after class sports and clubs was exactly the news newly-minted Ontario Premier Kathleen needed after a disastrous first week in the legislature dominated by a controversy over gas plants.
“I’m very happy that teachers and support staff and students across the province at public secondary schools will once again be able to enjoy the extracurricular activities and programs,” a beaming Wynne told a supper-hour news conference.
The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation agreed to “suspend political action” _ code for its withdrawal of extracurricular activities _ which was sparked by the Liberals’ move to impose contracts that froze the wages of most teachers.
The union didn’t offer any guarantees that things would immediately return to normal at high schools.
“We still maintain that voluntary activities are just that: voluntary,” OSSTF president Ken Coran said in a statement.
Wynne insisted the government did not make any concessions to convince the union to end its protest, other than agree to work with teachers and school boards on a new collective bargaining process for the next time to help fix a “fractured” relationship.
“The arrangements that have been reached do not add any money into the contracts or into the framework,” she said.
“We have sat down with the (union) leadership and said we’re willing to talk about some of the things that are bothering you, and one of those things is what’s the collective bargaining process going to look like going forward.”
Some teachers have said they won’t resume supervising extracurricular activities because of the two-year contracts the government imposed, but Wynne predicted most would return to the sports and clubs they ran voluntarily for years.
“If there are some who don’t I can’t control that, nor would I chose to, so they will make those choices,” she said, “but I think the vast majority will because they get a lot out of those activities.”
The New Democrats said it wasn’t clear if the deal with the OSSTF would lead to a resumption of extracurricular activities.
“We have a very fragile and tentative agreement with a whole lot of detail to be filled in,” said NDP education critic Peter Tabuns.
“They have apparently found a pathway for discussion and beyond that it’s all unclear.”
The Progressive Conservatives were suspicious of the vague nature of the new deal with the teachers’ unions, wondering if the Liberals agreed to phase out the standardized testing the teachers dislike so much.
“It’s quite clear the premier wanted to talk more about process than what those arrangements or concessions actually were,” said PC education critic Lisa MacLeod.
“We are encouraged that extracurriculars are going to be back in some of our schools, but it’s a bit early for Kathleen Wynne to be patting herself on the back.”
Wynne said she hoped the Elementary Teachers’ Federation would come to the same arrangements with the government and resume extracurricular activities at that level. ETFO has promised to review the situation by next Friday.
Public school educators across the province had stopped supervising after class clubs and sports after the minority government _ with Tory support _ imposed contracts on more than 126,000 public elementary and high school teachers.
The teachers’ deal helps counter an embarrassing week in which Wynne was forced to admit there were yet more undisclosed documents on the cancellation of two gas plants, which cost taxpayers at least $230 million.