Thunder Bay's public school trustees and unions say the school year will start on time, even though the Ministry of Education has threatened to make the board pay increased costs if there's no new deal with teachers.
Last Friday, the ministry sent emails to trustees from school boards across the province which said, if there's no deal that freezes wages, the school board will have to foot the bill for any increased costs.
The Lakehead Board's total was $378,957 — an amount considered a rollover for wage increases and banked sick-day payouts.
Board chair Deborah Massaro said the province didn't explain its math in the email to trustees. And the move came as a surprise.
"We find that it's very unusual for trustees to receive information from the minister," Massaro said.
"We don't usually receive any information of this sort directly from the ministry."
Union files objection
A Catholic teachers union is objecting to what it calls 'aggressive action' from the Superior North Catholic Board.
Lisa Lacaria is with the Ontario English Catholic Teacher's Association and represents Catholic teachers in 9 communities east of Thunder Bay.
She says the Superior North board has applied for conciliation before the two parties have even started bargaining.
"I was quite surprised," Lacaria said. "We have a very good working relationship with our board, and usually we inform each other if things like this are happening. So I was actually very shocked to find out that this had happened."
Lacaria said the union has filed an objection to the application with the Ministry of Labour. She added she doesn't know what effect it will have on the beginning of the school year.
School boards receive money from the province through a grant for student needs and the province dictates how the money is used. The province said this year's grant for student needs doesn't cover money for salary increases, thus the boards would have to pay those increases themselves.
The head of Thunder Bay's Secondary Schools Teachers union local said the move indicates the province doesn't want existing contracts to roll over.
"They want what could be described as massive changes to some of the fiscal aspects of our contract, and they want to make those changes before the negotiation processes have had an adequate time to address them," Paul Caccamo said.
Massaro said the board has to meet before any decisions are made on whether to accelerate negotiations with the unions and how it will cover the thousands of dollars in potential costs.
Regardless of the outcome, Massaro said "there will be teachers in the classroom, staff will be in the schools and everyone there will be welcoming every student for the new school year."