The fact that teachers will have three fewer days for professional development in the 2013-2014 school year makes it difficult to provide them with the necessary training, local school board administrators say.
Contracts imposed on teachers earlier this year by the province mandate that they must take three unpaid leave days.
The government said the unpaid leave days were necessary to allow teachers to continue to move up the pay-scale grid.
Instead of reducing the number of days students receive instruction, the unpaid leave days are being taken on what normally would have been days set aside for professional development.
Teachers with all four local school boards will be asked to stay home without pay on Oct. 11 and Dec. 20, 2013 and March 7, 2014.
Professional development for teachers will still take place for all four local school boards on Sept. 3, 2013 and Jan. 31 and June 13, 2014.
Last year, local school boards had six professional development days to work with. But because of the government's cost-cutting, in the 2013-2014 school year, they'll only have three.
By law, school boards only need to have two professional activity days, but are allowed to have up to six.
School board administrators such as vice-principals, principals and superintendents are also being forced through the legislation to take the same unpaid days off. Other employee groups have to take off one unpaid day, although it's yet to be determined which day this is.
Given this context, Rainbow District School Board director of education Norm Blaseg said it will be “very challenging” for boards to meet all of their training requirements in the next school year.
For example, the province has new anti-bullying legislation which is “complex and layered,” and requires a lot of specific training, he said.
“I'm not sure how we're going to be able to fit that in, and that's just one item,” Blaseg said.
“We have health and safety, curriculum for literacy and numeracy, which is huge. We have board improvement plans and school improvement plans that need to be vetted. There's just a whole host of items we need to put forward.”
Another wrinkle is that under teachers' collective agreements, they use the Jan. 31 professional activity day for the semester turnaround and the June 13 professional activity day for the completion of report cards.
That means school boards actually only have control of one professional activity day in the next school year — Sept. 3.
Rainbow board vice-chair Dena Morrison said it's impossible to jam all the needed training into just one professional activity day, so administrators will need to be creative.
“There's no doubt about it, it's been a significant hit on professional development of staff,” she said, speaking to Northern Life Feb. 28 after Rainbow board trustees approved the 2013-2014 school year calendar.
“That's not just laissez-faire fairy tale stuff. It's actual hard, concrete, staff-need-to-learn-this stuff.”
What might end up happening is teachers will be pulled away from their classrooms for a day to receive training, Morrison said, although she added the board doesn't have any money for this.
Perhaps principals will be able to do some professional development during staff meetings, but there's a limit to how long these meetings last.
“PA days ... are great opportunities to work with teachers and to work on different initiatives and to do professional development in areas where both teachers and the board recognize there's a need,” said Terry Papineau, the superintendent of school effectiveness with the Sudbury Catholic District School Board.
James Clyke, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) District 3 Rainbow, said he's also concerned.
“You're taking 50 per cent of those opportunities and taking them away,” he said. “I can't really see how that would not impact professional development in the board.”
Adding insult to injury, teachers are effectively taking a 1.5-per-cent pay cut because of these three unpaid days, Clyke said.
He said he hopes the issue will be part of ongoing discussions between his union's provincial leaders and the government, but he isn't optimistic anything will change.