Sandals confident agreements will be reached

By Elaine Della-Mattia, Sault Star – Tuesday, September 1, 2015 8:38:06 EDT PM

Minister of Education Liz Sandals said she’s hoping that outstanding agreements with all teachers unions will result in a tentative agreement by the time students return to the classroom next week.

The ministry is currently continuing negotiations with French language board teachers and English public elementary teachers.

“I am quite confident that negotiating is the right approach and we will eventually get there,” Sandals said Tuesday while talking to reporters in Sault Ste. Marie. “I’ve said all along that we’ll keep working at the bargaining table and eventually that will work in mutually agreed tentative agreements and hopefully ratified agreements and that’s the way to approach it.”

Tentative agreements with the English Catholic boards and public secondary school teachers have been reached.

Details of the collective agreements will not be made public until the boards ratify the agreements.

Sandals said ongoing negotiations are also continuing with the two unionized groups which represent the majority of the 55,000 support staff that are employed by boards across the province.

The union, the majority represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees and work in all boards across the province, had requested a no-board report and could be in a legal strike position Sept. 8. (See story on Page 3)

The support workers have already threatened job action. Outstanding issues include workplace violence, job security and pay. They have not received a raise since 2011.

She would not comment on contingency plans that may be formulating if a tentative agreement is not reached with the support staff.

“We are focusing on the collective bargaining. We’ve shown we can get collective agreements and we are working to do that,” she said.

At the elementary school level, teachers will also be teaching a new sexual education curriculum which has come under fire by many parents.

Sandals said the curriculum needs to be up to date and address the health and safety students are dealing with.

“We know that sexting and internet safety are a whole new set of issues that weren’t on the radar the last time the curriculum was changed,” she said.

Sandals said the ministry has done its homework to develop the curriculum, consulted with experts and prepared proper materials for the new program.

Meanwhile, the province announced Tuesday that it is modernizing its student financial assistance program for the upcoming school year.

The changes were initially announced during the 2015 spring budget.

The changes are designed to give students more control over how much financial aid they withdraw, end the requirement for students to report their vehicle as an asset and exempt the first $3,000 in student assets from their financial aid assessment.

While OSAP falls under the universities and colleges ministry, Sandals said data shows that Liberal government programming has dramatically increased the participation rate for post-secondary education over the past decade “so we know the financial assistance we’re putting in place is working.”

Sandals said the Ontario Liberal government has focused on ensuring there is financing for lower income student families and has targeted students who don’t have family members who have attended post secondary schools.

Sault MPP David Orazietti said that the Liberal government has also restored grants to students, something that had been cut in 1994 and new restored until the Liberals took power.