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Michael Laxer lives in Toronto where he runs a bookstore with his partner Natalie. Michael has a Degree in History from Glendon College of York University. He is a political activist, a two-time former candidate and former election organizer for the NDP, was a socialist candidate for Toronto City Council in 2010 and is on the executive of the newly formed Socialist Party of Ontario.

Laurel's lies: The real way to put Ontario students and children first

| January 4, 2013

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Laurel Broten is lying. 

But, then, so are all of Ontario's other politicians.

The narrative of Broten, imposing contracts on Ontario's teachers, is quite clear. Ontario cannot afford pay increases, fair wages and reasonable sick day banking  policies because of an alleged "financial crisis" in the province. Ontario simply has no money.

She laid out the Liberal government line. And the media have largely bought it. The Ottawa Citizen states:

After months of labour strife, Broten says she chose to impose contracts on thousands of people working in the province’s public school system, based on similar terms reached with Ontario’s Catholic teachers last July, in order to save the cash-strapped province $2 billion and protect gains in education and teaching jobs.

“In the interest of students, families and all Ontarians, I have been left with no other reasonable option,” the minister told reporters in Toronto.

Ontario families deserve “certainty and clarity, and that is why we put in place collective agreements,” Broten said.

The key point is the claim that she, and the government, "have been left with no other reasonable option". That is simply false.

There is a reasonable option that would put students first and that would also ensure that educators were properly compensated. It is an option that would allow for the reversal of the welfare cuts, in real terms,  of the last budget that were supported by the NDP. It is an option that would eliminate any deficit at all.

It is raising taxes.

For far too long we have coddled a middle class philosophy that seeks to grant tax cuts to everyone while still maintaining the services and systems that the middle class cherish.  We have indulged the fantasy that you can cut taxes on the middle class and still provide services to the middle class, or anyone else, a fantasy that is demonstrably false.

We seem to think that a top quality public education system is possible, but no one should pay for it.

Previously I have shown that the entire "austerity agenda" and the entire deficit could be reversed immediately by undoing the reckless and economically foolhardy vote getting tax cuts of the last nearly twenty years that are now supported by all political parties. Tax cuts that have endangered all of our existing public services and prevented the creation of new ones, like universal daycare or dental care.

When Ontarians were faced with a one day teachers strike, suddenly the press and the politicians claim to feel the pain of the parent left without childcare.

According to the press this was a stunning and horrible inconvenience. The Toronto Star had headlines about people "enduring" the day long strike in December as if it was the Mayan Apocalypse.

But where were the headlines about parents enduring totally unaffordable daycare regularly, every single day? Where was the outrage at the fact that most parents depend on teachers not only to teach their children, but to take care of them while they work?

The irony is that the Star and other papers seem to live in a world where a day without the "childcare" that is our public education system, is an insurmountable inconvenience whereas in reality working people, the lower middle class and the poor are driven into poverty constantly by being forced to find costly childcare for their children, our youngest citizens, who do not yet qualify by law for kindergarten or who need to be cared for after school hours.

There are some simple things to take out of this.

One is that the teachers are not daycare workers. For whatever reason, as a society, we have decided to force parents to endure years of financial terror in Ontario and Canada before our kids are in Kindergarten and then after.  As a result, once our kids are actually in the classrooms of trained educators, we are under the mistaken impression that this education is about our "convenience" or that it is constructed to make our lives easier. 

Apologies to parents but universal education is not, and was never, about us. The reason that children are required to attend school by law is not that it makes life convenient for parents, but, at one time, we as a society understood that the purpose of childhood education is to ensure that all kids, no matter their class, race or gender background have at least some chance within the school system of equality of opportunity.

People don't train to be teachers to wipe bottoms or noses, but to educate. They are not "day care workers", whatever that might mean. But it seems that the unwritten rule of the elementary school teacher is to wipe noses, help nourish students and to teach them. They also encourage our little people with praise when they try their best.

What does our provincial government do when our educators do their best? They punish them, by taking away their constitutionally protected  collective bargaining rights, and therefore their right to free assembly.

Beyond that we get the sheer idiocy of the Tories.

"The union should pay for the childcare that parents are now scrambling to find for their kids", said Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod.

"Thirty to fifty dollars is a lot to a lot of Ontario families," she said. "Especially those families who are going without this year because mom or dad doesn't have a job."

So, here is the thing. Is Macleod or anyone else in the Ontario Legislature, including the NDP,  calling for universal daycare to save parents that $30-50 a day? Of course not.

By her logic, there is a clear way to end this strike. According to government stats most teachers educate at least 15-20 students in elementary school per class. That means, at minimum, according to her, teachers with 17.5 students per class are worth $700 a day. And there are, at a legal minimum 194 school days.

This means they should earn $135,800 a year on average. As opposed to the bargain we get of  a 15 year veteran earning less than half that.  

$135,000 a year would be a salary comparable to the MPPs fighting them or who are de facto approving Bill 115. These extraordinarily well compensated citizens seem to have no problem cutting the wages and benefits of those less Patrician than themselves.

The illusion that we can, as parents, put our children first while supporting tax cuts for ourselves is being called out. They are not compatible.

Anyone who really claims to be putting students or their own children ahead of themselves is lying if they are unwilling to make the minor sacrifices collectively through slightly higher taxes that would allow this.

Putting students and children first means not only supporting your educators and their rights, but also accepting that the middle class tax cuts of the last generation were done to benefit people in the "here-and-now" and that they are selling away and damaging the futures of our kids.

Our selfishness is soon to be their problem.

 

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Comments

I am 33 years old, 6 years in on the pay grid. I will be frozen there for 2 years, guess I won't make the top by 36. I consider myself lucky with teaching. It is an extremely competitive field to get in to. A position opens and hunderds of people apply. I was lucky, it only took me 5 years to find a full time permanent job, for many others it takes much longer.

PD days are not for the teachers to decide what to do, work has been laid out by the school boards for those days. The additional qualification course I have taken (6 so far) have each cost between $650-$900. Yes, at first it was to work my way across the grid (something I did have control over), now it is just for interest, when I can afford it. The AQ courses are run through universities, therefore requiring 125 hours of work for each one. My last course ran every Monday evening (12 weeks) 5-9, and 3 Saturdays 9-5, plus all the assignments, etc. It is university all over again, with a full time job.

Teachers do the job because they love it. I didn't sign up for the benefits. I do it for the kids. It is the most wonderful job. Yes, the pension is good (right now), we pay into it big time!

I don't know what your job is RDP, but I'm guessing you work hard for your salary. I work hard too, starting 7:30am and leaving for home at 5:00pm, usually working for an hour or two at night. No jokes. The job is demanding. Spending a day on the weekend at school is also fairly standard. It is not a 9-3:30 job as many would believe.

The average household in Ontario earns $72,000.  You, an individual, earn $92,000 (which we can prorate to over $100,000 if we assume a normal 4 week vacation).  

Why do you think it is hard to get a full-time teaching position out of teacher's college?  Supply and demand.  The demand to become a teacher is greater than the number of teaching positions.  Why do you think that is?  Everyone knows it is a very nice gig.   Also, 18 years old + 5 years of university = 23 years old.  23 years old + 11 (or 10 in many school districts = 35ish with a year or two to find a full-time position.  

You have to take upgrading courses? So do I and most others.  Don't you get professional development days to complete these courses?  I don't.

Spend one day in the shoes of a 40 year old earning $60,000 and then decide whether a 40 year old teacher deserves 50% more pay (plus a beautiful pension, bankable sick days, etc.)

Your husband earns $91,000 after 1 year of experience.  Either he is very good at what he does (and is therefore earning his pay through merit) or he is paid by the taxpayer.  

 

 

Oh, and just also wanted to say, spend one day in any classroom and then decide whether or not teachers salaries are worth it.

I just want to clear up some misconceptions about the previous post by RDP.

Yes, it is true that teachers hit the top of the pay scale after 11 years of experience, however, the top of the pay scale is NOT $100 000.  Based on one particular collective agreement I am familiar with, the top of the pay scale (which is actually a grid) is $92 811, and this is ONLY if you are to the far right on the grid.  Depending on your placement on the grid, you may actually reach your maximum pay at a salary of less than that (e.g., $79 555 - $86 298).  A teacher has to take extra upgrading courses (and pay for those courses out of pocket) in order to reach the top of the pay scale.  At minimum, it would take 1 year to upgrade to the top of the pay scale, but depending on where you start on the grid, how many courses you need to take, and when you can find time to do those courses while also working full-time, it could take several more years of course work before you are actually at the top of the pay grid.  Also, the 11 years experience is accumulated for these top salaries ONLY if you are working a full-time, permanent contract position for 11 years straight.  Saying that a teacher around 36(ish) would be earning $100 000 is extremely misleading.  This would ONLY be the case if that teacher had finished teachers college at age 25 (it takes 5 years to get a teaching degree - 4 years of undergrad, plus a year of teacher's college - in Ontario anyway) AND got a permanent contract teaching position immediately out of teacher's college, AND worked 11 years straight without any interruptions (e.g., a year off for a maternity leave).  Ask any teacher if they got a permanent teaching position directly out of teachers college, and I'm willing to bet 99% of them wil say no.  In fact, I know teachers I went to teachers college with 7 years ago that STILL don't have permanent contract teaching positions.  If a teacher supply teaches for 2 or 3 years even before they finally get a teaching contract (which is typical nowadays in the teaching profession), then after 3 years teaching, they still must start on the bottom of the pay grid.  So a teacher, now 27ish (let's say) has a starting salary of $51 255 unless they have spent the extra time and money to take courses to upgrade to the next level on the pay grid.  Let's take this same example and extrapolate assuming the teacher is a female.  Now finally having gotten a teaching contract and allowing for 2 years off for two maternity leaves (which is very common for female teachers) will be at a salary of $86 298 at the age of 40.  I would say this is a more realistic and average example for the typical teacher.  Of course there will be teachers who have a harder time finding a permanent, in which case they would be even older when reaching the top of the pay grid, and of course there will be the lucky few who obtained and kept teaching contracts for 11 continuous years right from the beginning (or near the beginning).  Also, the pay freeze won't even affect teachers at the top of the pay grid, they'll still be at the top, earning their top amount.  The pay freeze affects young teachers who are just starting out.  For example, let's take a teacher who has been teaching for 4 years (2 of those were supply teaching years and/or longterm occasional assignment years, and 2 of those permanent contract years).  That teacher is now frozen at a salary of $57 360 until late 2014.  Assuming this teacher starting teaching at age 24, they are now frozen at $57 360 until they are approxmiately 30 years old. 

As for the private sector (which apparently 90% of us are in), my husband is in the private sector and after 1 year experience at his job is earning $92 000.  Now, I won't pretend that all (or even most) employees of the private sector would fit into this example, as it widely varies.  But I will say, that as a teacher, this could NEVER happen with our salaries, and in fact, in the example given above, it would take a teacher 11 years (again, ONLY if they were permanent contract teaching years, and were continuous since starting) to acheive the same salary that this sample private sector employee has reached in 1 year. 

I could go on about sick days, vacation, etc., but I think you get my point.  As this is already quite a long post, I'll leave someone else to comment on the rest of the misconceptions in the previous post.

"The narrative of Broten, imposing contracts on Ontario's teachers, is quite clear. Ontario cannot afford pay increases, fair wages and reasonable sick day banking  policies because of an alleged "financial crisis" in the province. Ontario simply has no money."

 

Do you realize that teacher's salaries start at roughly $51,000 increase to about $92,000 after 11 years of experience (so, at the age of 36'ish a teacher has hit the top of the pay scale and earns close to $100,000.  (One day I will hit the top of my pay scale.  I would've been so much better off if I hit my top at the tender age of 36).  The average household in Ontario, not individual but household, earned $71,540 in 2010 and this hasn't risen much.

On top of this they have close to 100% of their benefits paid for and there defined benefit pension plan allows them to retire with full pension after 30 years of work (many around the age of 55).  (When you find a 56 year old retiree, you can't bet the ranch they aren't coming from the private sector.)  

Let's ignore the value of the pension plan, ignore that they get roughly two months more vacation than any other profession, ignore that they can't get fired, ignore that there is no sick day banking with other professions.

You talk about fairness.  The teacher's compensation package is only unfair to the citizens of the province who pay the taxes to fund teacher's pay.  The liberal government is simply trying to bring this injustice to the taxpayer back to something reasonable.

How about standing up for the little guy (the 90% of us in the private sector).

 

 

 

I do appreciate Michael Laxer's thorough analysis of the situation involving the teachers, government, and other interested parties including the media.

I do criticize the media--not for being spoon-fed Liberal talking points--but for being deliberate in misleading the public about the labour situation.  How many times did I hear or read conservative media outlets state that union "bosses" were fighting for the children.  At no time did any of the union presidents state that their unions were fighting for children's rights.  They for fighting to best represent the interests of their teacher-members.  That is the job of their unions.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) was nice enough to give at least 72 hours notice when going on a one-day strike in each public school board. It didn't have to do that.  As Michael Laxer mentioned, the media was upset that parents had to arrange for their children's childcare.  In the middle of winter, we get snow storms that shut down schools and/or school buses.  Snow storms do not usually give 72 hours notice to parents.  The media do not ask for legislation banning snow storms because parents can't adequately deal with their children's child care needs.  Let's not forget professional development days, holidays, and summer vacation.

All the political parties have a hand in this labour situation between the government and teachers.  I do put some blame on the NDP because it knew that the Liberals were planning to impose austerity conditions on the teachers.  Yet, the NDP supported the Liberal government's budget last spring.  The NDP let the Liberals survive for another nine months or so.  The NDP was complicit in knowing what the Liberals would do to the teachers.  It could have stopped the Liberals by opposing the last provincial budget.  However, the NDP did not stop the Liberals.  Andrea Horwath was in front of the legislature supporting the teachers at a demonstration while she and her party supported the Liberals on the budget.

The other political parties do need to take blame for the difficult labour situation.  I don't think that the Conservatives care as they will pick up support from people who hate teachers and unions.  The Liberals will likely not recover from their actions against the teachers.  The Liberals lost all teachers' goodwill from the past nine years by imposing an austerity plan against the teachers in order to win a by-election in the former Conservative riding of Kitchener-Waterloo which the NDP won.

The NDP may be fortunate enough to win support from teachers and their supporters in the next provincial election.  However, the party should be careful not to take teachers for granted.

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