Since the Minister of Education announced last December that he would introduce legislation to repeal the Professional Learning Program (PLP), I've received several letters from members asking about a reduction in membership fees.
That's understandable. The fee went up last year to pay for the program. It should come down in its absence.
Following the Minister's announcement, the College moved quickly to downsize overall staff by 32. The Professional Learning Committee stopped meeting. We imposed a hiring freeze, which remains in effect. And we've looked at the impact of the decision on other areas of the College's operations and its effect on our budget.
Soon Council will decide how much the fee will be adjusted to reflect the implementation of other initiatives currently in place and the termination of the PLP.
Quite apart from the implementation of the PLP, the College developed significantly in size, complexity and number of programs and services over the past three years.
Membership has grown by more than 12,000 teachers. In 2000 we had 177,000 members. By the end of last year the College had grown to over 189,000 members in good standing.
To help with new member processing and support, the College had to put in place new programs to accommodate the introduction of the Ontario Teacher Qualifying Test (OTQT) and requirements for language proficiency. Although the College is not responsible for developing or administering the OTQT, it is part of the regulatory requirements for new teacher licensing and has required more changes to computer systems and processing of new applicants.
At the same time the College also needed new databases to support complaints and investigations and its newly expanded accreditation functions.
Applications from Ontario faculties of education graduates have jumped 750 a year since 2000 while those from US border colleges have increased by 700 a year over the same period. A 25 per cent growth in demand for services in the College call centre and at the walk-in counter is in part due to these increases in applications.
Applicants and members alike want better service faster, so the College has implemented the Members' Area on the web site (It's easy to register. Just go to www.oct.ca Members' Area). Teachers can now interact with our College around the clock.
Next year, the majority of new teacher applicants - those who receive their teacher education in Ontario - will be able to apply for membership and track the progress of their registration online.
Over time, the implementation of these secure online services will go a long way to controlling the costs of College services. But for now, the cost of programming for all these services is significant.
Teachers in all our publicly funded school systems know that many colleagues are being asked to take on responsibilities for which they don't hold the required qualification, so it's no surprise that requests for Temporary Letters of Approval have more than doubled (1,300 from 600) in the last three years.
Because the College works very hard to provide service in both of Ontario's official languages of instruction, the workload of the College's translation unit is a good indicator of how busy we are. In 2001 the College translated and revised just under one million words a year. In 2003 translators logged more than 2.6 million words and will probably pass 3 million this year.
Council activity and support also expanded with the addition of the Accreditation Appeals Committee and a much busier and increasingly complex Registration Appeals Committee agenda.
In the past, Council has made a deliberate attempt to operate on a three-year budget cycle. The three-year cycle enables the members of Council you elect to set a fee that provides a level of service they want during their tenure. It also demonstrates Council's commitment to stability and forces College staff to think creatively and operate within their approved means.
Let me assure you that Council will be mindful of our legislated mandate and these operational realities as we start hammering out the 2005 budget and a new - lower - fee.