Our Students Come First Says Ontario Education Minister
By Bala Menon
MISSISSAUGA: The recent deal with CUPE ( Canadian Union of Public Employees) on wage increases for 55,000 educational workers in Ontario represents an incremental success, according to Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.
“My singular mission as Minister of Education is to keep children in the classrooms so that they can learn. The deal with CUPE is conditional – it has still to be ratified…and I feel that the students won – not the unions, not the government. My constituency is the children of our province.”
He was answering to criticism that the government caved into union demands tamely after CUPE claimed victory with their strike threat.
“I want politics taken out of the class, out of the education system,” he told the Weekly Voice in an exclusive interview.
“We did not cave in to the union demands. We have agreed to a 1% increase in wages over three years….Another question we had to deal with is that of absenteeism. We have found that educational workers get 15 days of sick leave – more than what teachers get. How is it that EAs get more sick leaves?”
See video of interview with the Voice News Network here:
The government has now mandated that staff need to get medical certificates if they are sick … “the utilization of this facility by the EAs, we have found. is far more than teachers. We have to fix it, we have fixed it. And we are saving money for the boards, by halting this revolving door method where there is too much supply and substitution going on.”
Lecce said that although CUPE had been ramping up their actions dramatically “the Government has remained a constructive force at the table with one mission in mind: keeping students in a safe and positive learning environment. By negotiating in good faith, all parties have demonstrated that a tentative deal can be achieved.”
Meanwhile, negotiations with teachers are ongoing, Lecce said, adding “I want stability, to focus on curriculum updates for math, science, technology and we want to emphasize on competencies that young students can learn and bring later to the job market.”
The Minister said the province was also investing in trades for women and to encourage underrepresented groups. In addition, a whopping $1.6 billion has been sanctioned for a teacher protection plan – which will help in bringing stability to 99.9% of the teaching workforce.
Lecce said: “We saw headlines when the school year began that 500 teachers have been rendered surplus and jobless, but they didn’t say that 499 have been taken back by their school boards.”
“We are putting more money into education and more money in special education, in transportation – more than any government in history.”
However, he said that the Ontario government does not want the status quo in the education system. The introduction of a math test for teachers was one of the moves to shake up the system.” It is a reasonable thing to ask that teachers in our province have a basic knowledge of math – considering that our math scores have been declining. Math is a foundational skill and although the unions criticize our move, it has to be done for the betterment of our students,.”
“We are putting $200 million for a four-year math strategy for students to become financially literate, to learn numeracy – it will be compulsory so that students understand finances and personal budgeting to help handle their affairs better in life.”
His ministry will be focusing on trades so that the province can bridge the skills gap with the jobs that are in the economy, along with a spotlight on digital technology. “Families are now realizing that trades can provide well-paying jobs and offer entrepreneurial opportunities.”
“It has been an exciting three months since I have taken over the portfolio….so we will go back to basics We have put a lot of new money into the system so that it can help grow our economy – then we can expand the social services as well,” Lecce said.