Hamilton

Teachers feeling emotional toll of 'callous' education cuts

The board says the cuts amount to the equivalent of staffing for more than two full high schools.

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School board is slashing 99 jobs in the wake of provincial cuts

Marita Cockburn is one of 99 high school teachers from the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board who are losing their jobs. (Marita Cockburn)

Marita Cockburn walked into the principal's office at Dundas Valley Secondary School Thursday morning with a feeling of dread sitting in the pit of her stomach.

She has been teaching for five years, but has only a year-and-a-half of seniority — and with all of the talk from the province about changes to education, she knew what was coming.

As her principal told her that her job had been cut, the tears came.

"I thought I would be able to process it in a more stoic way, but it was very emotional," she told CBC News. "It's hard to put it into words, but it feels so raw, still."

Cockburn is one of 99 teachers that Hamilton's public school board says it is laying off after cuts to provincial funding.

Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) chair Alex Johnstone said in a statement issued Tuesday that the cuts amount to the equivalent of staffing for more than two full high schools, and impact staff who have been working with the board for up to six years.

But some teachers say they've been with the board even longer. Laurel Petty is a teacher at Sherwood Secondary who told CBC News she has been teaching for nine years. She was also told her job is now considered "redundant."

The 32-year-old says she feels like her job was slashed by a "callous, uninformed," and "rash" provincial government.

The instability these changes create is taking a real toll on teachers, students and the community at large, she said.

"I sat in my car for 10 minutes and cried before I walked through the door today," she said.

Province doubles down

These cuts come despite Education Minister Lisa Thompson saying no teacher will "involuntarily" lose their job in Ontario, adding that the provincial government is setting aside $1.6 billion in "attrition protection" funding, to counteract increases in the average high school class size from 22 to 28 over four years.

In a statement provided to CBC News Wednesday, Thompson's office said, "We stand by our commitment that not a single teacher will lose their job as a result of our changes to class sizes and e-learning."

"We have repeatedly stated that through the $1.6B in teacher job protection not a single teacher will lose their job as a result of our proposed changes to class sizes and e-learning. To suggest otherwise is fear mongering and completely unfair to students and their families."

The province says schools will be able to manage losses through retirements — and if a school board has 10 fewer retirements than expected, for example, it could afford to keep 10 teachers by drawing on the fund.

Laurel Petty is a high school teacher who has also been given a redundancy notice. (Laurel Petty)

According to Johnstone, that funding can only be used to offset layoffs due to the province's planned class size increases. However, the board's hand was also forced due to provincial cuts to a variety of funding envelopes, school closures, and declining enrolment numbers, she said.

Petty said the province is either being "deliberately obtuse," or "knowingly lying" when it says no teacher would lose their job.

"It seems like there's no real effort for engagement on these issues," she said. "This is something that is going to have ripple effects in our province for decades to come."

"It seems the strategy is to create chaos," Cockburn said.

Thompson's office also categorized layoff notices as part of the "annual process" for school boards at this time of the year.

"Establishing a budget for the following school year is a complex process which school boards undertake each year. We will continue to work with school boards to ensure that they are making the most responsible and accurate decisions during this process," the statement reads.

Cockburn said that simply isn't true. "This doesn't happen every year at this scale, at all."

A 'domino effect'

Full time teachers in the board who have been laid off will be able to be bumped back into a second employee tier for "long term occasional" workers, who cover things like maternity leave and sick leave.

That would then bump other teachers back into the pool of substitute teachers, creating a "domino effect," Johnstone said.

Being bumped from full time employment also has an impact on job security and removes benefits — something Petty says contributes to precarious employment.

"This for me means I may never buy a home," she said. "Will I be facing this uncertainty at 40-years-old when I've invested 20 years of my life?"

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press

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