Frank Klees

Frankly Speaking

Frankly Speaking
An article by Frank Klees, MPP
As published in the Auroran

September 25, 2012

Teachers' Actions Confuse Students, Parents and Me.....

Since when is refusing to coach sports teams and shutting down extra-curricular programs in the best interest of students ?

Remember the radio and TV ads in the days leading up to the vote on Bill 115, the legislation that would freeze teachers' wages for two years, stop the practice of cashing in on sick days whether sick or not and preventing teachers from striking during the two year wage freeze period ?

" We'll be in school, but we won't stop fighting to protect our students".

This was the tag line attached to the many radio ads sponsored by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF).

Well, teachers are in school alright, but the refrain about how they wouldn't "stop fighting to protect our students" is somewhat confusing to the students and parents who are now caught in the crossfire of the teachers' demonstrations against the government.

What does it say about the leadership of the OSSTF when the first volley in response to the passing of Bill 115, was against students and parents by declaring a one day moratorium on extra-curricular activities ? So much for fighting to protect students.

"It won't be business as usual" said Sam Hammond, the President of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) following the passing of Bill 115. "Teachers will be free to choose which volunteer activities with students, if any, they will withdraw from." 

Again, the first victims in the fight with the government are the students and their parents. But this statement by Mr. Hammond puts the issue into an interesting perspective. Students and parents alike, will know that individual teachers are now making the decision about whether the extra-curricular activity is cancelled or not.

Refusing to coach sports teams or organize music and drama programs, doesn't change the daily routine of the politicians who voted for Bill 115, but it has significant impact on the students and parents who are counting on those programs.

Students and parents should not be used as pawns .....

Whatever disagreements there may be concerning wage freezes or sick days or how the implementation of Bill 115 was handled, students and parents should not have to bear the consequences of this dispute. This issue should be worked out in the boardrooms and at the negotiating tables, not in classrooms or schoolyards.

While I disagree with how Dalton McGuinty and his government have handled this issue, I do agree that a two year wage freeze is an essential step in getting the province's fiscal affairs in order. That's the reason I and my colleagues in the PC Caucus supported Bill 115 .

Our preference would have been a legislated, across-the-board two year wage freeze for ALL public sector employees. The savings to the province would have been $ 2 billion per year, and would have represented a major step towards balancing Ontario's budget. That approach would have avoided singling out the teaching profession and would have been a fair and equitable way of managing the fiscal challenge in our province. Dalton McGuinty dismissed that proposal and chose rather to move forward with Bill 115.

Putting things into perspective......

It may interest you to know that despite this so-called wage freeze, 41% of teachers will still get an average pay increase of $7,500 over the next two years because of their position on the seniority grid (which is not subject to the freeze).The additional cost to taxpayers for these increases alone will be

$ 300 million. Given the predicament of 600,000 unemployed Ontarians who wake up every morning wondering where the next meal will come from, the fact that sick days can no longer be banked, should be kept in perspective.

It should be kept in mind as well, that since being elected in 2003, the  McGuinty government has increased spending on education by more than $8 billion, despite a decline in enrollment of more than 250,000 students. A good part of that increase went to teachers' salaries and benefits.

Frankly, with an average salary of $83,000, a comprehensive drug, dental and disability benefit plan and an enviable pension, I think Ontario teachers are doing quite well. They have every reason to put students first and I have every confidence that they will.

As always, I welcome your comments and advice. I can be contacted through my website at www.frank-klees.on.ca or by phone at 905 750 0019.