In what’s becoming a recurring site in Elmira, teachers rallied outside Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris’ constituency office last week to protest the Conservative government’s cuts to education.
This time, it was members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF District 24) decrying the funding cuts. Among the concerns raised were a budget shortfall of an estimated $12 million for the Waterloo Region District School Board, a reduction in service to local schools, e-learning changes, increasing average class sizes, and potential staffing reductions province-wide.
“We need to be worried about the future of education and the students’ success in Ontario. We’re at a time where we should be investing in student education,” said Vicki Buder, community volunteer and labour advocate at the protest. “This government is choosing to cut resources, programming, staffing, and services for these kids. It’s going to have a detrimental effect on Ontario and student success.”
Buder pointed to the shortfall having an impact on support staff within the classroom; less teacher’s assistants and library clerks to assist students, for instance. She added that these provincial budget cuts in multiple crucial sectors have made her concerned for the future.
“It’s only the beginning of what’s to come with this government, who are giving every indication to privatize services – we’re beginning to see it … like healthcare, and we’re seeing it begin to take place with education as well.”
Despite the reduction in funding, the WRDSB has not laid off any teachers to date. An Attrition Protection Allocation of $1.6 billion introduced by the PC government was released late April to prevent educators from losing their jobs. The funding does not apply to positions outside the classroom, however, meaning other support roles may be affected.
And despite the attrition fund, there have been ‘surplus notices,’ and layoff notices have been sent out to educators across the province already. The Upper Grand District School Board in Guelph, for example, sent out 54 layoff notices to elementary school teachers, the Lambton Kent District School board in Sarnia issued 111, and the Peel District School Board in Peel region issued 369 to both elementary and secondary school teachers.
“Cutting people’s jobs in the name of efficiency is not efficient. There’s enough money; the rich aren’t taxed enough, that’s the big problem,” said Oscar Cole-Arnal, retired university/seminary professor. “And this government is a pro-rich government. Doug Ford is Trump-worthy. As long as I have any energy, I’m going to be out here saying what I think and speaking out against injustice.”
Some 50 educators made it out to last Friday’s two-hour rally, which is becoming a norm across the region and province-wide. Previous “No Cuts to Education Rallies” took place weekly since late April at PC MPP offices, including Cambridge MPP Belinda Karahalios and Kitchener-South Hespeler MPP Amy Fee.
June 14 marked the last OSSTF scheduled protest on this issue.
Harris, for his part, was open to listening to constituents who had voiced their concerns regarding these cuts.
“I was happy to meet and chat with local educators in Friday’s OSSTF union rally,” said Harris in an email to The Observer. “I believe we all share a commitment towards student achievement with an acknowledgement of Ontario’s current fiscal reality. That is why we are focusing on getting back to basics on math and literacy education while increasing funding for special education and student transportation.
“I am glad that the Waterloo Region District School Board found efficiencies and used the Attrition Protection Fund provided by our government to ensure that no teachers were involuntarily laid off.”