03/15/2019 17:18 EDT | Updated 03/15/2019 17:18 EDT

Ontario PCs Are In For A Fight On Class Sizes, Teachers' Union Says

The government wants to hike class sizes and cut grants for education.

Ontario PC Education Minister Lisa Thompson makes a statement at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto on March 15, 2018.

TORONTO — Union leaders and Opposition MPPs want to know how the Ontario government plans to cut grants for education and increase class sizes without costing any workers their jobs.

"Not one teacher, not one, will lose their jobs because of our class size strategy. None," Minister of Education Lisa Thompson told reporters at an announcement Friday.

The minister said the government will increase the size of average classes, from 23 to 24 students from Grade 4 to Grade 8 and from 22 to 28 for high school. High schoolers will have to take at least four of their 30 credits online instead of in a classroom with a teacher.

The government will also cancel a number of grants for school boards or let them expire. The cost adjustment allocation, or funding for teachers' sick leave and maternity benefits that totaled $63.6 million this year, is discontinued. The local priorities fund, a $235-million pot of money for needs like special education and adult education, is set to expire on Aug. 31 and may not be renewed. And a program enhancement fund for secondary schools, which some boards have been funding out-of-pocket for years, is gone for good.

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The changes will trim less than one per cent off of Ontario's $29.1-billion education budget this year, Thompson said. She did not say how much the government would save in the longer-term.

Thompson said over and over again that no teachers would be laid off, but she did indicate that school boards may be asked to offer some teachers early retirement.

It's notable that Thompson didn't mention other staff like custodians, educational assistants and secretaries in her remarks, Laura Walton told reporters.

"It takes more than just a teacher to make a school operational," the president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions said.

It takes more than just a teacher to make a school operational.Laura Walton

"Are you going to save money off the backs of those people who are serving our children?"

Premier Doug Ford ran on a promise to cut government spending by 4 per cent without laying off a single public servant. He recently changed his tone to say that no "frontline" workers will lose their jobs, rather than no workers at all.

"I don't know that I trust the minister to protect those jobs," the NDP's education critic, Marit Stiles, said Friday.

"We've heard Doug Ford say that before."

She said bigger class sizes will mean less one-on-one attention for students and less care for students with special needs and disabilities.

"At the end of the day, it's students who are going to suffer as a result of these changes."

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press
Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario president Sam Hammond is seen in a 2013 file photo.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) said the Progressive Conservatives' changes would cut 4,500 teaching positions every year for the next four years.

Class sizes are negotiated during collective bargaining, the ETFO said, calling the minister's announcement a "violation" of teachers' union rights under the Canadian constitution.

"We will use all means at our disposal to defend our right to collectively bargain these matters," ETFO president Sam Hammond said in a release.

Thompson and her staff repeated the line that "not one" teacher will lose their job because of these changes when pressed for details by reporters.

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