TORONTO — Ontario will dedicate $1.6 billion to ensure school boards don't have to layoff teachers to adapt to larger class sizes.
Finance Minister Vic Fedeli's office made the announcement in a statement released to HuffPost Canada Thursday, as thousands of teachers across the province face uncertainty that they'll still have jobs in September.
Rather than laying off teachers all at once to achieve new class size targets, school boards will not replace teachers who voluntarily leave or retire, according to the statement.
"Whether it happens this September or the September after that, we're in for a tough go,"Dave Weichel, teacher
"We have taken great care to build a sustainable education plan where no teacher is being fired, despite what our opponents often claim," the statement said. The money will be available for the next two school years.
The provincial government announced this year that it would increase class sizes from an average of 22 students up to 28.
This week, Parry Sound High School in central Ontario was bracing for more than half of its 40 teachers to be laid off. It would have been a "crippling blow," said guidance counsellor Dave Weichel, who has taught there for more than 20 years. He posted his concerns to Facebook this week, which was shared 2,500 times.
He said he's wary of the province's latest announcement, which still indicates its long-term goal is to shed a significant number of teaching positions.
"Whether it happens this September or the September after that, we're in for a tough go," Weichel said. "Cuts hurt kids. Fewer teachers means fewer classes, clubs, caring adults, and opportunities in general."
His wife, also a teacher at the school, will be given a surplus notice, he said. Every teacher at Parry Sound High School feels "angry, scared, just generally freaked out," Weichel said.
"In these small schools we're very closely connected. When one of us has something bad happen, it happens to all of us."
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Near North District School Board, encompassing Parry Sound, Muskoka and Fedeli's North Bay riding, is sending out an "unprecedented" number of surplus notices to teachers, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation said in a statement. As many as 121 of the board's 240 high school teachers face potential layoffs.
Local union president Glen Hodgson said he alerted teachers to the news Tuesday after he confirmed the number of surplus notices "wasn't a typo. I had no idea the cuts were going to be this deep," he said.
"I went public because it was going to be devastating for my members," Hodgson said.
Watch: Ontario students fight back against education cuts. Story continues below.
The school board said in a statement that it has not yet received all the information and documents from the province to determine how many redundant teachers will actually be laid off. It calculated the redundancies based on the province's proposed larger class sizes.
In a letter sent to the province, school board chairperson Jay Aspin voiced his disappointment with the province's changes to education. Rural schools already struggle with delivering elective and specialized programs to a small population, spread out across a large region. If larger class sizes are required, it will limit how many classes schools can offer.
"This will effectively put our students at a disadvantage when compared to their Southern Ontario counterparts," the letter said. "In order to ensure that Northern Ontario remains economically viable our future employees and citizens must have access to quality education."