The local public school board will look at joining some other boards in the province by asking the province to repeal controversial legislation allowing government intervention in teacher job action.
Alex Johnstone, an Ancaster trustee for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB), plans to bring forward a motion at an upcoming meeting urging the government to get rid of Bill 115, known as the Putting Students First Act.
“It's created a lot of turmoil in our board,” Johnstone said of the act. “Parents are certainly unhappy. Teachers groups are certainly unhappy. Never before have we had the province dish down to us all these specifications. I think Bill 115 was unnecessary.”
The province has been at odds with teachers unions since May, when it proposed a framework agreement that froze wages for two years. The unions agreed to a wage freeze but disagreed on some benefits issues, such as restricting grid movement and cutting the number of sick days in half. The Catholic teachers' union agreed to the framework agreement. But the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) did not.
In late August, the Ministry of Education passed Bill 115, giving it powers to intervene in collective bargaining as the unions negotiate with local boards.
Johnstone's motion calls on the province to review or repeal the bill, saying it undermines labour law and democracy.
“This was a bill that really infringed upon our human rights and our labour rights,” she said.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board wouldn't be the first board to put its objections on paper. The Thames Valley District School Board, for example, passed a “formal and urgent request” to rescind the legislation. The Ontario Public School Boards Association has taken a similar stance.
The ministry's goal has been to save $2 billion over two years. Johnstone's motion proposes merging the public and Catholic boards, which she says could save as much as $1.6 billion per year.
“The whole point is to illustrate that we can find cost savings in our system without removing collective bargaining rights,” she said.
The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board is in the midst of bargaining with its teachers, so it won't be passing a similar motion, chair Patrick Daly said.
“We do have deep, deep concerns with Bill 115, but we haven't formally brought anything forward.”
As for the notion of merging the school boards, Daly called that portion “absolute nonsense.”
“Those so-called savings are highly exaggerated,” he said. “That kind of thing is just a distraction.”
Laura Peddle, trustee with the HWDSB, also plans to introduce a motion asking for the board to work with unions on solving the outstanding issues.
The motion moves that the board “creatively search for solutions, monetary and non-monetary, collaboratively with the unions” to “stabilize the educational environment.”
“I'm hoping to get the political support to say 'enough already,'” Peddle said. “We can't do this in Hamilton anymore. We need to solve it.”
The motions are scheduled to be presented at a board meeting on Dec. 17.