Education Minister Confident Fall Teacher's Strike can be Avoided

AM800-NEWS-Ontario-Education-Minister-Stephen-Lecce-in-classroom

Ontario's new education minister is optimistic there will be labour peace and students will be in the classroom this fall.

Contracts for all education unions expire at the end of August and Stephen Lecce says he's already started conversations with the unions.

Contract negotiations come at a time when teachers across Ontario fear their jobs are on the line after the Doug Ford government announced plans to increase average class sizes — a move that's expected to eliminate nearly 3,500 teaching positions over the next four years as the province looks to trim an $11.7-billion deficit.

Lecce tells CTV Windsor he's prepared to work with teachers to ensure the changes in class sizes don't hurt the student experience.

"I've have spent the last weeks and I'll be spending the coming weeks listening because I want them to know that I actually care deeply about the student experience and about their priorities. I see them as partners. I see our teachers, our support workers as people who work hard, are compassionate and really care about these kids and I share that conviction."

He says he's working hard to make sure funding for children with developmental disabilities remains untouched.

"As Minister of Education, I care deeply about these kids. Our most vulnerable children in society, this is why we have governments, to help them and enable them to help them achieve their potential and I insist that they are respected. I think there's an important role we can play to help ensure that it's a seamless journey as they go through the learning experience."

Lecce says it's important to keep all lines of communication open to ensure there's no fall strike.

"In my first day, I called all union leaders in the province and in the second week, I met with virtually every teachers union and I am meeting with the support unions in the coming days. I believe we do indeed need to be doing more listening and communicating. I'm doing that with the mission of keeping students in the classroom in September where they belong."

Lecce also notes the Ontario PC government has increased investments in special education and mental health in it's current budget.

The former Parliamentary Assistant to Premier Doug Ford replaced Lisa Thompson at Education Minister on June 20.

— with files from CTV Windsor's Michelle Maluske