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New year, new hope

A new year brings new hope that the tumult in our schools experienced since September might soon end and that normalcy might soon return.
The level of frustration clearly remains high, though, on both sides – the provincial government and the two big teachers’ unions in our public schools.
In using Bill 115 to impose two-year contracts retroactive to Sept. 1, Education Minister Laurel Broten spoke of  “intransigence” on the other side. “In the interest of all Ontarians, I cannot allow the intransigence of select parties to continue to undermine stability in our schools, the success of our students and the fiscal certainty of our province,” she said. Union reaction was also toughly worded. “By taking away our right to strike and imposing collective agreements upon our members, the Minister has shown that she has little respect for the rights of education workers, democratically elected school boards of trustees, or the citizens of Ontario,” said Ken Coran, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
The school boards have been caught in the middle in this bitter dispute, as students and parents have also been.
But there’s hope emerging from the local public school board that Broten’s pledge to repeal Bill 115 by the end of January could eventually lead to better relations between the provincial government and teachers, despite the resentment now felt by many teachers. The repealing of Bill 115 “opens up the opportunity for improved relations between teachers and the government as we look forward to the next round of bargaining in 2014,” Upper Grand District School Board chair Mark Bailey said Thursday.
It’s clear the teachers’ unions are hoping the Liberal leadership convention on Jan. 26 will work in their favour. Coran said “repairing the damage” that’s already been done “will be challenging and will be the responsibility of the new leader of the Liberal Party and the government.”
Ontario’s political uncertainty makes it unlikely there will be any quick easing of tensions with the unions. But teachers owe it to students not to show their resentment by avoiding extracurricular activities. We echo the words of Bailey, who said that in spite of remaining resentment, “we hope and are optimistic that our teachers will do what is best for the students over the course of the next year.”

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