Will only the poorest kids attend our public schools?

Strike actions, including work-to-rule campaigns by high school and elementary teachers across the province in Peel, Durham and Sudbury, raise the spectre of unfinished school years for some 70,000 students.

With spring finally here, parents and children are looking forward to the end of the school year and the beginning of summer.

However strike actions, including work-to-rule campaigns by high school and elementary teachers across the province in Peel, Durham and Sudbury, raise the spectre of unfinished school years for some 70,000 students.

The work-to-rule actions were announced by the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario after months of negotiations with the province, broke down.

For the average person the issues and process are complicated.

At issue are new bargaining rules implemented by the School Boards Collective Bargaining Act (Bill 122) that was passed by the Wynne’s Liberals back in 2014. Designed to repair the problems with the previous collective bargaining process between school boards and the government, including the unpopular imposed contracts back in 2012, the new Act created a 2-tiered system.

Under the new Act, financial issues are to be negotiated provincially by the teachers unions, school board associations—including the Ontario Public School Boards Association—and the government.

The Act spells out the responsibilities and roles for all groups involved ensuring that all parties must agree to any tentative 3-year agreement. At the same time non-fiscal issues such as teacher workloads are to be negotiated locally between school boards and teacher unions.

In the interim, school boards have come together filing a joint application to the Ontario Labour Relations Board asking the board to declare the work-to-rule actions by the teachers’ unions unlawful.

The school boards cite slogans on strike placards that raise provincial rather than local concerns. At the same time the Wynne government is asking the Education Relations Commission to address the issue of how much of the school year will be affected for those schools experiencing strikes.

In essence the bureaucratic quibbling about what can be negotiated by whom and where allows school boards to put off meaningful negotiation.

They argue the issues raised by teachers unions are meant to be negotiated provincially with the government and not locally with the board. It becomes a Catch-22 for teachers unions, with school boards arguing that they cannot negotiate smaller issues without a larger contract with the government.

It is a complicated process that is hard for anyone to understand. To evaluate the position we need in effect to educate ourselves about the education system in order to understand what is happening in Ontario.

While teachers unions negotiate for the rights of their members and school boards seek to balance their books, the only losers in the long run are Ontario students. All parties involved invoke the plight of students because it is an issue guaranteed to interest Ontario parents.

But how do continued governmental cuts and the sale of properties by school boards help students in the long run? We have to ask ourselves what kind of education system do we want, and how are we going to fund it? Funding public education ensures that all Ontario students are given the same opportunities.

An educated and informed student body means educated and informed citizens helping create one of the cornerstones of democracy.

We need to have continued investment in our schools to ensure that Ontario students have the right opportunities to improve their future. If we allow the public system to be gutted, then the only option is private schools.

Do we really want a 2-tiered education system that privileges only those who have access to private education. After all the students of today become the leaders of tomorrow.