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Ontario school merger would save millions: Study

Ontario school merger would save millions: Study

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Teachers speak out on wage freeze, homophobia in Catholic schools
Some Ontario public teachers are furious that they are being asked to shoulder the burden of the province’s debt while it continues to fund a separate Catholic school system.

Members of Catholic school boards have been criticized for discriminating against queer students and teachers, most recently during a battle over gay-straight alliances (GSA) in Ontario.

“It just makes no sense,” says Geraldine Turkoski, a middle-school French teacher in Grand Erie. “Why do we have two school boards if [the province] doesn’t have any money?”

Turkoski was one of thousands of public school teachers who took part in a massive Aug 28 demonstration at Queen’s Park. Teachers were protesting controversial legislation that saw MPPs return to work two weeks early to consider a freeze to teacher wages and cuts to their benefits in order to battle the province’s $15 billion deficit.

Angry at the imposed legislation, some Ontario teachers are threatening to work-to-rule, which could put extracurricular activities and clubs at risk, such as GSAs, according to an Aug 30 story in The Globe and Mail.


This concerns Christopher Mckerracher, who has been fighting for a GSA at his Mississauga Catholic school for more than a year.

“This does worry me because students who want to start a GSA may not be able to get the faculty support, or best faculty support that they could,” he says. “I don't disagree with their intention, but their motives could seriously hurt some students.”

Education Minister Laurel Broten, who declined to speak to Xtra, has repeatedly said the harsh measures are necessary. But a recent study found that huge savings, as much as $1.5 billion, could be found by eliminating the separate Catholic school system.

The study’s author, William J Phillips, is past president of the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods of Ontario, a former trustee and the past executive director and secretary treasurer of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association. “For years I asked, ‘Why do we waste all this money?’ We have to do some draconian things to save money in education right now . . . cuts that affect student activities,” he says. “We wouldn’t have to do that if we just merge the boards. Ontario simply can’t afford Catholic schools anymore.”

The Elementary Teachers' Federation (ETFO) agrees. At its August AGM in Toronto, members voted unanimously on a motion to declare support for one secular school system for both official languages in Ontario.


“We want a fair system where there isn’t religious division and wasteful duplication,” says Pamela Dogra, a union representative for ETFO Toronto and a provincial executive for ETFO. “Times have changed; we need to move forward.”

For some gay teachers in Ontario, there is another very good reason to eliminate the separate Catholic system: many fear losing their jobs because of their sexuality.

“Every year, during the last two weeks of summer, I start to experience anxiety,” says a gay Toronto-area Catholic school teacher who asked to remain anonymous. “I’m not sleeping well. I get agitated. Going back into the closet every year has an effect. It’s always hard going back . . . Being a teacher doesn’t stop [when the bell rings]. We have to be fearful 24/7.”

Discrimination in the Catholic system also extends to queer students, who have previously been refused gay-straight alliance (GSA) support groups and continue to be taught based on pastoral guidelines that state gay people are “disordered” and “depraved.”

After Ontario passed the anti-bullying Accepting Schools Act (Bill 13) in June, some Catholic officials and parents vowed to fight its implementation.

“Separating our kids should never be public policy,” Phillips adds. “Governments should not be discriminating against different groups.”

Phillips, who used Ministry of Education budget numbers for his study, says it’s important to make the distinction that his figures are based on a “merge,” as opposed to an “amalgamation,” words that are often incorrectly used interchangeably. Catholic boards have long made the argument that few savings would come from an amalgamation.


“Of course, you don’t save a lot of money in amalgamation because you’re just amalgamating what already exists,” he says, “like when they amalgamated the boroughs into the City of Toronto. They didn’t get rid of anything.”

Phillips says merging would take Ontario from four boards to two: secular English and secular French. “That would immediately reduce the number of trustees,” he says. “Think of a company merger. When a merger happens, companies save a lot of money. They get rid of a lot of duplication.”

He says unused infrastructure could be sold and other savings found in cutting capital and administration costs, such as superintendent and director salaries.

As a result of decreased school enrolment across the province, many buildings are half empty, says John Witman, a Whitby science teacher. “Especially in the smaller communities. There are big schools with very few kids in them.”

NDP MPP and budget critic Michael Prue, who has been a vocal proponent of a merger, says Phillips’ calculations “seemed to make sense.”

When economist Don Drummond released his report on cost savings for cash-strapped Ontario in February, some pundits were surprised the separate school system was not recommended for the chopping block.

Prue says that behind the scenes many pushed hard to remind Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty of the “enormous” potential cost savings from eliminating Catholic boards.

“My understanding is Don Drummond was told that under no circumstances could he do anything on this particular issue. That order came from the premier’s office,” he says. “There was not even a single sentence.”

When reporters asked Drummond why cutting Catholic schools was not even being considered, he simply replied, “Because of the constitution issue.”

That answer doesn’t sit well with teachers now being forced to take a wage freeze.

However, the Liberals aren’t alone. All three major political parties have slammed the door on discussions about modernizing Ontario’s school system.

“The NDP position is to do nothing at this time and I am bound by that,” Prue says. “Many are deathly afraid that even mentioning this issue would cost votes.”

The Green Party is the only party advocating for one secular school system.

As the province sends teachers back to school with some unions still threatening a labour dispute, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner is reminding Ontarians that all taxpayers contribute to Catholic schools in the province, whether they like it or not.

“We have now seen education crises under NDP, PC and Liberal governments,” states Schreiner in a news release. “This will happen again and again, unless the old parties get the courage to have a discussion on ending wasteful duplication in our current school system.”
  Projected Cost Savings From the Merger of Ontario Public and Separate School Systems
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Comments

revelations
I am an employee of a catholic school board. If you are a christian, and believe in god, the bible and revelations, there will be just one school board. There will be one world government, one world currency, and eventually no religion except worship of the government.
Enough is enough
The oppressive Communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed in the 1990s because they were not economically viable. In like manner, public funding of Catholic schools in Ontario will eventually end because it is not economically viable. The people of Ontario will eventually tell the politicians in the Liberal Party, the PC Party and the NDP that they need to stop taxpayer funding of Catholic schools - rather than continuing to ask citizens to pay more and more taxes for fewer and fewer public services. Enough is enough.
eclipse falls hard on backward looking eyes
Justin Milton, the entire god and jesus dog and pony show along with the pope and his apparatus of torture and misanthropy, along with all the other cults of hate are running into the past as the rest of us move into the future. Your mere presence is intensely painful to people like us who have left your sad and ruinous gods in the mass grave of your own bloodsoaked history. Religion is the past trying to poison the future.
Infalmmatory
Some of the anti-Catholic statements written here are more discriminatory than many anti-gay sentiments I have heard. Catholic schools very much believe in curbing bullying. More kids are bullied for physical appearance than any other reason including sexual orientation. However, I wouldn't promote a "Obese, non-obese alliance." Clubs based on promoting inclusivity have existed for years in the Catholic system before GSA's were discussed. Promoting GSA's appears to actually promote segregation. Gay students cant be part of an anti-bullying club? As an aside, Catholic schools most often outperform their public school counterparts in academics (EQAO results), so perhaps the public system should be absorbed by the Catholic system.
Encourage Understanding
The people of Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan (the only provinces that still have public Catholic School systems) need to consider the original reason for separate Catholic schools. They were created in an era when Catholics faced discrimination in public schools where religion was taught, but it was religious instruction that was often very negative to the Catholic religion (or negative to non-Catholics in Quebec).

Today, anti-Catholic discrimination is not the issue. The issue is encouraging respect for all kinds of diversity – racial and religious diversity, yes – but also sexual diversity. This is best done in a single public school system. Having unified public school systems reduces administrative costs, diverting money to teaching and learning.

Should religion be taught in schools. Certainly, students should be taught ABOUT religion as units in Social Studies classes, but at a day and age when a majority of students attending Catholic schools are not from faith active families, it is foolish to think that any teaching of one set of religious beliefs or one faith is going to be effective. It is not. The place for children and youth to learn a specific religious faith is in their home and place of worship, not in schools.

What schools need to do is break down all barriers of discrimination and teach understanding and acceptance of diversity.
Where Betty prefers freedom of religion...
... I prefer freedom from. Grade school should be a place free of religious indoctrination. Leave that to churches and foolish parents who wish their children to believe that ten thousand angels can dance on the head of a pin and voices emanate from bushes that burn without incinerating.
Freedom of religions means something different
"What happened to Religious Freedom in this Country?"

What happened to religious equality? We have had the UN admonish us because we are one of the few industrialized countries that sponsors an official religion. People are free to believe in what ever religion they wish which is what religious freedom means, but it is not our governments role to sponsor a religion (contrary to your opinion all taxpayers contribute to catholic schools). Quebec got rid of these schools, so can we.
Catholic schools are here to stay!
It's the parents decision to send their children to Catholic school, which are generally the best schools in the area, with high test scores and teachers who actually care about morals and values. Its also a fact that Catholic taxpayers fund their own schools through property taxes. It's also guaranteed in the Constitution. This article and comments are just anti-Christian bigotry. What happened to Religious Freedom in this Country? Go teach your sex-filed Godless curriculum in public schools.
The Bible is one big lie
"a massive, shapeless, aimless organization." Kinda like the Catholic Church?
And these "mistruths" are...
Hey MITCH! since you've brought it up, please share with the rest of us? What exactly is wrong with this plan? Reducing the duplication in administrative costs alone make getting rid of the Catholic school board in favor of a single secular system.

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