By Brian O’Neill
Toronto District School Board trustee Howard Goodman will not rest until Regulation 274, which governs the hiring of teachers, has been rescinded.
“The Minister [of Education] has the complete power to set and rescind regulations,” Goodman said to Humber News. “Like a dog with a bone I have never let it go. I don’t intend to until it is rescinded.”
The controversial regulation, which uses seniority as a primary criterion when hiring long term or permanent teachers, is to be reviewed, said Premier Kathleen Wynne on Wednesday during the legislature’s daily question period. Wynne said that the regulation was an “over-correction.”
Issues of seniority
Under the regulation, occasional teachers looking for work at a board are ranked based on their seniority. Goodman said this doesn’t focus on student needs.
“It puts adult needs ahead of student needs. It’s a regulation designed to improve the lives of adults.
“The first obligation and duty is to promote student achievement and well being. Full stop. Period. Exclamation mark,” Goodman said.
Under the regulation, seniority isn’t the only hiring criteria, said James Ryan, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. OECTA is in favour of the regulation.
“Seniority is but one small thing. When we are talking about seniority, we are talking about experience and the experience matters in the classrooms. The teachers who are hired must be qualified. In addition, in order to be hired onto a permanent position, they have to have a positive performance appraisal from that board,” Ryan said.
Nepotism and fair and just hiring practices
Ryan said that there was a culture of nepotism within the boards and that despite opposition they are seeing a positive side to the regulation.
“Early evidence that we are seeing, that because there is a measure of accountability for boards which they never had before, they can’t just go out and hire nieces and nephews and sons and daughters to fill jobs.
“Now they have to look at the teachers with the best qualifications, the best experience and who are most capable to consider for the roster to put into those classrooms,” Ryan said.
Goodman said unfair hiring through nepotism has never been an issue within the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario or the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation.
“We already have job posting, we already have fair and transparent hiring practices. The union gets a list of every single person we hire. If there was significant nepotism, they would know about because they would track it down,” Goodman said.
Goodman said that he would propose to committee next month a central team that will review new hires who have relatives to determine if there was any undue influence.
Another debate point is diversity. Goodman said hiring teachers with the most seniority inhibits the ability for school boards to hire more diverse teachers.
“By saying we are going to pull from the grads from seven, eight, ten years ago, which were way less diverse than the grads from this year, we are placing an impediment on the commitment to increase diversity,” Goodman said.
These teaching candidates that were passed over is where diversity is to be found, Ryan said.
“I think this policy will lead to our teachers being a more diverse group because it should be colour blind, and it will allow teachers who were previously being passed over because they weren’t relatives from not being passed over.”
The politics of the regulation
Wynne is in a difficult situation having inherited Dalton McGuinty’s minority government. Marvin Ryder, a labour relations analyst and professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at McMaster University, said Wynne’s comments Wednesday show her positioning herself for an election campaign.
“One of the groups that the Liberal party had alienated almost a year ago was the teachers and all their various unions by having that forced contract legislation.
“She’s doing it now as a token of good will saying, I hear your concerns, I want to react to it and I want to do the right thing,” Ryder said.
While the Liberal government said it will study the effects of the regulation, Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod introduced a private-members bill Wednesday. The bill would repeal the regulation completely.
“That may be a little too much in the other direction because there is a union that does like this,” Ryder said.
In the end, Ryder said a toned down form of the regulation with seniority as one of the key criteria for principals when hiring will be the most likely result.
“In essence what they will do is they will hold principals for their decision-making and they will have to explain. If you pick somebody who is fresh out of school or has two years of seniority and pass by five other candidates who have been in the system for 10 years, you better have a good reason for it.”