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Secondary school teachers reach deal with Upper Grand school board

SPECIAL TO THE MINTO EXPRESS

GUELPH — Bob Borden was holding his breath and crossing his fingers in hopes that a tentative agreement would be approved on Monday, Nov. 19.

“I am absolutely thrilled and terrifically proud of our staff,” the chair of the Upper Grand District School Board said in an interview on Saturday evening.

The Upper Grand and the York Region boards reached tentative agreements with their high school teachers on Saturday — the first locally bargained deals with teachers in the province.

Borden said the agreement speaks volumes to the collaboration between the board and teachers’ unions.

“This was not achieved without a lot of good will between two parties.”

The deals — which still needed to be approved by the education minister — could prove a breakthrough in what have been tough negotiations across the province.

“The tentative agreement focuses on improving student achievement, and the well-being of students,” said Licinio Miguelo, spokesperson for the York Region District School Board north of Toronto.

He said the agreement was reached at 5 a.m. Saturday morning and would be sent to Education Minister Laurel Broten by Monday morning.

The Upper Grand agreement, covering high school teachers in the Guelph area, including Norwell District Secondary School in Palmerston, was also reached early Saturday.

The tentative deals are a good sign, said Geoff Williams, director of labour relations for the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association.

“Initial deals generally guide what happens with the rest of the deals,” he said. “It’s moving forward, and we’ll see what happens over the next couple of days” with other boards engaged in talks.

While provincial-level talks with the teacher unions have faltered, both elementary and secondary teachers’ unions have said they’d continue to bargain with individual school boards.

Broten, however, has said the deals must be similar to those reached in the summer with the province’s Catholic and French teachers, which include cutting eligible sick days in half, ending costly retirement payouts of unused sick days, and unpaid days off to fund a wage increase for newer teachers.

The Upper Grand board eliminated the retirement payouts more than a decade ago, which meant at least one less contentious issue to negotiate.

“I am very pleased that tentative agreements have been reached between OSSTF locals and two school boards,” said Broten. “I look forward to receiving the agreements in the days ahead to confirm that they meet the substantively identical test laid out in the Putting Students First Act.

“Reaching negotiated agreements that meet our shared fiscal challenges while protecting small class sizes, full-day kindergarten and teacher jobs has always been our preference. We know that our education system is strongest when we all work together to find solutions.”

It is unclear if these two first deals will hinge on the high school teachers’ union’s proposal to run its own benefits plan.

- With files from Guelph Mercury staff

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