by Paula Turner
This is not an actual letter I sent to Kathleen Wynne. I believe that we need to put our most professional selves on paper in hopes that we will be heard as I would like to have her hear the reality of our work. Let’s just call this a fantasy blog.
Your website implies that we should be more casual with you, call you Kathleen and feel comfortable sharing our concerns and views with you. Like a friend.
Well, pour yourself a big cup of tea. This is going to be an honest conversation. Between friends.
I am an Educational Resource Facilitator. You might be more familiar with the name Teaching Assistant or Educational Assistant. It doesn’t matter the name. There is no title that can possibly encapsulate all that the job entails. I think you know that. I think you know that we work with the most vulnerable students in the school system.
You know that others in our union, Designated Early Childhood Educators, work with the youngest and therefore also vulnerable students. Many of our students have mental health issues. Many others are marginalized for their economic status, their family situations, their sexual orientation or gender identity. Their learning issues, whether they are just entering the system or they’ve been in it for a while, are a big part of our focus. But there is much more that we deal with every day.
You, my friend, have been a member of the party that put DECEs in every kindergarten classroom some years ago. The Liberals said that Early Learning was important, would change the ways our students would learn and succeed. You enticed hundreds and hundreds of DECEs into the school systems, away from jobs that they loved to be a part of an initiative that was going to revolutionize education in Ontario.
And then, you pulled the financial plug and changed the plan. You forgot the promises made and the ways in which those educators were told they would be treated within the system.
You, my friend, have been at the head of the party that now has systematically pulled funding out of every sector of the education system – speech and language, social workers, teaching assistants – the list goes on. I know, you will say that the Boards are given the funding and they determine where it goes. Come on, between us friends, we can be honest. The money isn’t flowing the way it should and you are blaming the Boards and the unions.
The truth is simple: your government mismanaged funds and contracts and you misrepresented that economic reality to the people of Ontario.
But, my friend, I am here to give you some tough love.
Our member group will be receiving their lump sum payments this week. Those contracts your negotiators hammered out over those many, many, many months is 1% of earnings when it came to the bottom line (which after tax is closer to .5%). No one argues that there are people in far worse states. No one argues that this is better than nothing.
The problem is that the members of ALL the unions were made out to be money grubbing, selfish, non-caring individuals.
I’ll be honest – it is about money. That’s the way it works in a society where your value is determined by the value of your pay cheque. It costs more to live in Ontario, but wages are going down or staying stagnant. With less money to hire staff, people are doing more with less. Students are getting the best that our members have to give, but it’s not enough. We need more supports for our students and for ourselves. We need your help.
Friend, we need you to rethink the way that education is funded in this province. The unions and their members are not the bad guys. We could actually be great confidantes. We could tell you what’s really happening on the front lines. It would make your concern for the bottom line become less easy to justify.
Please listen to the people in education before you decide to gut the system any further. We want to do a good job. We want to do what’s right for our students. I hope you do too.