Thunder Bay

Provincial government cuts have led to fewer teachers in Thunder Bay public high schools, union says

Classes have been back in session for two months at Thunder Bay public high schools but there are fewer teachers, according to their union.
Rich Seeley is the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation District 6A, in Thunder Bay, Ont. (Rich Seeley)

Classes have been back in session for two months at Thunder Bay public high schools but there are fewer teachers, according to their union.

Rich Seeley, president of the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation (OSSTF) District 6A which represents full-time and occasional public high school teachers in Thunder Bay, said 15 teachers retired at the end of the last school year but were replaced with only three full-time equivalent positions.

Decisions made at Queen's Park by the provincial Progressive Conservative government have put pressure on school boards across the province, Seeley said.

"In Thunder Bay public high schools, we're about 12 teachers or 72 classes short of where we would have been last year," Seeley said. "The result of that becomes now that there is a loss of certain programming." 

The impact of those fewer classes and teachers has been most heavily felt in alternate education programs, Seeley said.

"For students who are more at risk, there are fewer places to put them when they start getting into difficulties in their mainstream classes," Seeley said. "They don't have as many alternate outlets for those students so they'll start falling through the cracks."

There hasn't yet been a significant reduction in course offerings, Seeley noted, but there are classes with split grades or levels. There are some art and music classes that are triple split grades, he said.

'38, 39 kids in a classroom'

Seeley said there are some classes with more than 35 students, with others tentatively scheduled for next semester that have 40 students.

"You put 38, 39 kids in a classroom and you're not going to get the same level of service, you're not going to get the same level of attention you're normally going to get," Seeley said, adding it becomes tough for teachers to evaluate that number of students and provide timely feedback.

"If there are 20 kids asking questions, the teacher will probably get around to them all. If there are 35 kids asking questions, they may not get to them all."

Seeley is concerned this could only be the beginning, as the Ford government has signalled it intends to move forward with requiring high school students to earn a minimum of four e-learning credits and larger class sizes.

'What programs are going to be left?'

An analysis conducted by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives projects a loss of 41 teaching positions over the next four years for the Lakehead board, with 37 of them coming at the high school level.

"You take 40 teachers out of that over that time and it's like 'Wow,' what programs are going to be left?" Seeley said, noting many popular elective courses like art, music, fashion, foods and physical education might not be able to be offered.

"These could disappear because schools won't have the personnel to run them."

Public high school teachers have been holding strike mandate votes across the province. Thunder Bay teachers held one last week, though the results have yet to be publicly disclosed. OSSTF has already requested a no-board report and could be in a legal strike position next week.

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