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Bill 160 contentious legislation, teachers say

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While teachers agree the new education legislation introduced Monday could have been worse, they also agree it could be a lot better.

Education and Training minister John Snobelen introduced Bill 160—the Education Quality Improvement Act—with the impression that the most stringent legislation already had been dropped, making the bill easy to deal with.

“We have consulted with teachers, school boards, parents and others, and before introducing legislation, we reflected on what we heard,” he said.

But Andrew Hallikas, local president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, said the province has listened very little in those consultations—and managed to wrap a $1-billion tax cut up neatly in Bill 160.

“Clearly, we’re pleased we get to keep our unions, principals and vice-principals but there’s still the $1 billion taken out of the system,” he said.

“I think we’re going to be at odds with the government,” he added.

Sharon Preston, president of the local Federation of Women Teachers’ Associations of Ontario=, was equally unimpressed with the bill.

“Many of the things we find to be the most disturbing in the original piece of proposed legislation are still in this Bill 160,” Preston said.

The Education Quality Improvement Act proposes to:

oprevent school boards from increasing class size, making it a ministry decision;

oallow the province to set standards for the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom and in preparation time;

oincrease the school year by two weeks for elementary students and three weeks for elementary students (partially accomplished by reducing the number of P.A. days and exam days in the school year);

oallow the government to provide student access to non-teaching specialists (i.e. computer programmers to help with computer technologies classes; human resource specialists to assist with student guidance and counselling);

ogive parents a greater role through advisory school councils;

olet the province set all education property tax rates, not the school board, with all taxes staying in the community where they are raised;

oreview the funding system to ensure standards of fairness are begin met province-wide;

oassign each student an Ontario Education Number that would be used throughout his or her school life, including post-secondary endeavors; and

olet unions and school boards bargain freely under the provisions of the Labour Relations Act, with the negotiations for the first collective agreement commencing Jan. 1, 1998 and existing terms and conditions for teachers continuing during the new negotiations.

Preston, Hallikas and all Ontario Teachers’ Federation affiliates will be meeting in Toronto tomorrow. Meanwhile, teachers here will be holding an information picket in front of the high school during their lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

The teachers, who have been ready to stage an illegal strike, are still prepared to walk off the job, Hallikas said.

“We have never seen anything from the government that looks like it’s going to back down,” he said.

“All of the affiliates have a mandate for action up to and including a walkout," Preston added. "Nobody wants it to get to that.”

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