The Peel District School Board has issued layoff notices to nearly 200 secondary school teachers in the wake of the provincial government’s decision to increase some class sizes.
Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced last month that the average class size in Grades 9 through 12 will increase from 22 students to 28 students while average class sizes in Grades 4 through 8 will go from 23 students to 24 students.
At the time, Thompson said that “not one teacher will lose their job” as a result of the changes but in a statement provided to CP24 on Wednesday, the Peel District School Board confirmed that the layoff notices it has issued this spring are at least partly due to the change to class sizes.
So far, 176 elementary and 193 secondary teachers with the Peel District School Board have been informed that they will no longer have permanent positions after Aug. 31.
A spokesperson for the school board said the notices are a result of “changes to class sizes, cuts in local priorities funding and other reductions in funding.”
The Toronto District School Board has said that it also expects the changes to class sizes to ultimately result in a reduction of 216 elementary school positions and 800 secondary school positions.
Premier Doug Ford’s office, meanwhile, has said that the changes to class sizes will result in the elimination of 3,475 teaching positions across the province, all through attrition. The savings from the elimination of those positions is expected to total $851 million over four years.
In legislature on Wednesday, both Ford and Thompson maintained that the numbers coming from Peel Region are derived from a “routine” surplus list that school boards “across Ontario” release each spring.
“It’s been going on for years and years, it went on under the Liberals,” Ford said. “You know how the system works, the school boards are going to get their budgets and they’re going to be hiring back the teachers, because not one single teacher will lose their job.”
“This time of year is when school boards take a look at their roster,” Thompson said.
“They identify who is coming back from maternity leave, they’re identifying who is retiring, they’re identifying who may have an assignment to take them to the board, or whose coming back from a coaching assignment. The fact of the matter is, what we’re hearing about these recent weeks is a routine process that is done year in and year out.”
School boards across the province have been in limbo while they wait on word from the province on how much money will be allocated for grants specific to student’s needs.
In Toronto, many of the public school teachers on surplus lists are guidance counsellors and librarians.
“You can’t claim that no one is losing their jobs as the layoff notices are flying out the door,” NDP education critic Marit Stiles said. “This is not normal.”
Stiles said she doesn’t believe the government’s claim that any position losses will be a result of attrition, saying it’s just a “fancy word” for saying those roles will not be filled once vacated.
“Which ultimately means that there are going to be cuts to classrooms,” she said.
“What we’re seeing right now is that the impact is not necessarily going to be all on retirees. I mean, there are teachers that are lower on the seniority list, they’re being given the notices because they’re lower down that way. We don’t know though if there will be jobs for them come September.”
The premier also backed away from stern rhetoric about education changes on Wednesday.
One day earlier, Ford issued a warning to teachers about retaliating with a strike, calling it “nonsense” that would inconvenience parents and students.
Ford also threatened to change the current expiry date for upcoming contract negotiations, saying it was “amazing” that education sector collective bargaining agreements end just days before students return to classrooms.
The opposition accused Ford of picking a fight with educators – something he denied.
“We don’t want to go to war,” he said.
“We want the teachers in the classrooms, we want the kids in the classrooms learning. That’s what we want. We will do everything we can to negotiate a fair deal.”
The province said they are approaching negotiations with school boards “in good faith.”
The negotiations are expected to begin on April 29.