Canada Editor's Blog

1000+ Ontario Teachers Receive “Surplus” Letters in One Day

According to the Toronto Star, more than 3,000 full-time teaching jobs are estimated to be cut from Ontario schools within the next four years. This leaked information may have already seemed extreme and devastating for teachers, students, and families across the province, but the bad news as of April 5th, 2019, seems to be much starker than anyone thought realistic before.

Rumours arose Friday night that the Ontario government is specifically cutting funding to music programs across the province. According to an anonymous source and public school educator known to Conchordium, a Greater Toronto Area high school has recently discovered that their music department will be getting effectively slashed in half, and apparently this school isn’t alone.

According to Conchordium’s source, “this is is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“If there are 15 ‘surplus’ teachers, and each of them teaches 6 sections each, then you do the math if they get cut. How many sections are going to get cut? And what happens when mandatory sections, like special education, only have 10 students but are required by law to run? That puts an incredible strain on the options that schools are left with,” the source said, in reference to how many courses will be offered in September of 2019 at their school and schools across the GTA.

“We’re probably going to lose half of our department.”

Conchordium’s source, reporting on the cuts to their school’s music program as a result of the broader cuts leaked from the Ministry of Education.

“On top of all of this? Our contract ends at the end of the school year. If you think that the union isn’t going to organize a collective action, you’re wrong. There might be work-to-rule, there might be a full-on strike.”

Along with this school’s teaching positions getting slashed, or “surplused,” the source informs Conchordium that over 1000 teachers in the province have allegedly received “surplus” letters this Friday alone. Surplus letters in this context meaning notification letters to teachers that come September of 2019, they will no longer have a job at their school.

Toronto Student Walkout on April 4th, image via The Toronto Sun

This news comes at the peak of protests against Minister of Education Lisa Thompson’s planned cuts to the Ontario education system. According to Global News, these include cuts to OSAP, potentially laying off as many as 3,475 teachers in the next four years, and increasing class sizes by as much as thirty percent.

In an interview with the John Oakley Show just yesterday, Ford denounced protesters, denouncing them as “union thugs”.

“This is strictly from the union thugs, as I call them, the teachers’ union, one of the most powerful unions in the entire country. There’s finally a government with a backbone that wants our kids to start learning math.”

Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, on the John Oakley Show on April 4th, 2019

Unfortunately, to Doug Ford and his party, students apparently do not care about larger class sizes and fewer teachers. According to Ford, students only protested because of the influence of teacher unions, saying in the Global News Radio 640 Toronto interview, “This isn’t about class sizes, gentlemen… This is strictly from the union thugs, as I call them, the teachers’ union.”

Evidently, the higher tuition that post-secondary students will have to pay in Ontario could not possibly anger students in the slightest. That is, at least, according to Ford. Students who might need a little extra help to learn their materials will no longer have those resources, or according to the rationale behind these cuts to education, “luxury.” Any frustration from students is a conspiracy, obviously; a blasphemy inflamed by teachers and their union.

The Ministry of Education’s figure of only 3,475 fewer teachers losing their jobs also seems to have little realistic basis. TDSB chair Robin Pilkey has stated that many school boards across the province have projected higher numbers for potential job cuts and that she “would be curious how that number [from the province] was calculated.”

Worse, the Ministry plans to mandate e-learning courses, all in the name of “resilience.” Students who may not have an equal ability to take online courses, primarily as a result of lacking the same access that other students have to e-learning enabled devices, will be in trouble.

“The ministry hasn’t paid much attention to e-learning aside from having licensed the platform. In the research I’ve done, only a minority of students succeed and those students are concentrated in really high achieving schools.”

Beyhan Farhadi, a University of Toronto PhD candidate whose thesis looks at e-learning at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)

The cuts have begun across Ontario, and it seems the axe has first been taken (as expected) to music programs. That being said, by no means will they end there. Second language teachers, art teachers, and other “less essential” curriculum teachers will also see the worst of funding cuts. According to multiple school boards, arts and trades programs will be slammed with the effects of the budget cuts.

As Bridget Heo summarizes, “[the government’s] victims are, inter alia, $100 million in school repair funds, affecting 36 repairs across the TDSB; a curriculum revision project that would incorporate Indigenous perspectives in a manner consistent with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission; $25 million in funding for specialized programs that provide tutors for struggling students and support for Indigenous students; an entire autism program; and even full-day kindergarten in 2020. And, of course, there would be more to come.”

“The government’s been very clear that its plan is to cut four per cent from public spending and that would be a billion dollars out of the education sector…

“We’re all very aware of that. The impact that would have on the system would obviously be tremendous.”

Liz Stuart, the President of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association(OECTA)

The “more to come” includes the rest of the various fundamental programs that schools currently provide, which means that if you’re not math class, you might be getting the executioner’s axe.

With more expected to come in the coming days, there’s one thing for certain: regardless of what the Minister of Education says now, thousands of education jobs across the province are about to disappear.

As for the impact that this will have on schools and their programs, only time will tell, but you have the opportunity to help change that. By visiting the Legislative Assembly of Ontario’s website and getting in touch with your Member of Provincial Parliament, you can put pressure on your representatives and make them reverse these moves. You can also contact the Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson, by visiting her OLA website page or by calling the Ministry of Education at 416-325-2600.

Article content and research provided by Andrew Liang, editing and revision done by Dermot O’Halloran in collaboration for The Youth Journal.

Andrew and Dermot both work with Conchordium, a youth organization in the Greater Toronto Area dedicated to democratizing musical involvement and promoting music education advocacy for young people across Ontario. Join Conchordium’s mission of protecting music education and the arts across our province by sharing this article.

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