As class sizes get bigger in Ontario, PCs promise funding for boards to deal with shrinking staff

Teachers could very well not lose their jobs in Ontario over the next four years, but there seems to be every indication there will be much less of them as class sizes get bigger. 

At least that seems to be the consensus after concerning declarations from teachers groups, an updated statement from the Ministry of Education and analysis from a non-partisan research group. 

On Friday, Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced that class sizes would change over the next four years, with the biggest proposed changes coming for high school classes. 

The current cap of 22 students would increase to 28, while there would be a one student per class increase for grades four through eight. 

She also promised that "not one teacher, not one, will lose their jobs because of our class size strategy." 

But she also briefly mentioned teachers retiring. 

"We'll be working with school boards to address the number of people that retire on an annual basis, but it's too early to tell at this time, but certainly we'll be working with school boards," she said.

The announcement led various unions and teachers groups to say that thousands of jobs will be lost, including the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario projecting an overall reduction of 4,500 positions per year over the time frame.

That projection included both elementary and high school, with the EFTO saying the figure came directly from the ministry in a technical briefing. 

Seeking clarification, a spokesperson for the ministry said officials were discussing general attrition rates, whether it's teachers leaving by retirement or by leave, which is about 4,000 positions, not 4,500 cited by the ETFO.

"The government will provide about $1.6 billion in additional funding between 2019-20 and 2022-23 to school boards for attrition protection to support maintaining teaching positions, where needed, so that reductions can be managed through teacher attrition and voluntary leaves." 

Essentially, there appears to be no plans to replace many of the positions that teachers leave, despite class sizes getting bigger.

"Attrition protection refers to a proposed new temporary funding allocation that will top-up school boards where the change in funded teachers exceeds the actual attrition and other voluntary leaves," the statement said.

The government also adds that with the funding, "it is expected that boards will not be required to initiate lay-offs of teachers" as opposed to the minister's earlier promise that no teacher would lose their position. 

Annie Kidder, executive director of the non-partisan research group People for Education, said no matter how you define it, Ontario is looking at a future with much less teachers to deal with larger classes. 

"I don't think there's any way around the reality," she said. "It may be difficult to count exactly how many fewer teachers, but it seems to me on the face of it, it will definitely mean fewer teachers in high school." 

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation predicts it'll be an overall loss of 3,630 of its members. 

Kidder adds we do need more specific funding information from the budget next month and school boards need to time to adjust to their staffing and funding changes before we can project the specific number of losses.

But she stressed that bigger classes means less funding and there is a possibility that boards could have to let certain teachers go depending on their area of expertise. 

"Before you got one for every 22 kids and now you get one for every 28 kids, you don't need as many teachers," she said. "There are teachers who are specifically there for guidance or they specifically provide support to students who are struggling." 

"Are we going to keep those teachers?"