Voice of reason needed in fee debate

The Ontario College of Teachers is currently running a deficit budget. It isn’t enough to sustain the College’s mandated work, nor is it fair to members. Here’s why.

by Don Cattani

September signals a return to school and with it the hope that our classes will be inspirational and our students keen. Council too will try to summon keen inspiration as it sets a new budget this September, which culminates the work of this Council and sets the table for the next Council to be elected in the spring of 2009.

In 2008, the College ran a deficit of about six dollars per member. If that sounds alarming, it shouldn’t. The money was there as we drew the remainder of our fee-stability reserve to balance our books. However, since we first set $104 as a fee, the College’s membership and staff work have increased significantly.

In June, Council approved the addition of staff to the Investigations and Hearings Unit. Caseloads were reaching the breaking point – and we particularly required French-language dispute resolution and hearings assistance.

Accreditation work has also multiplied. The College has scheduled accreditation reviews of 10 faculties of education for 2009. Training teams, arranging consultations, gathering information, analyzing reports and rendering decisions consumes hours of staff and Councillors’ time.

“The College’s membership and staff work have increased significantly.”

We have done a good job of making it less onerous for internationally educated teachers to work in Ontario. But good is not good enough. The Ontario government has raised the bar on accessibility requirements for all professions. The federal government has mandated seamless labour mobility. We must meet those expectations, which will require a significant amount of regulatory development on the part of Council with the support of our Policy and Research Unit.

In 1997, we were able to secure a long-term lease at a ridiculously low price in a prime location – close to the Ministry and our education partners, and easily accessible by municipal transit. Our lease will end in 2012 and we have to prepare for at least double what we now pay.

While we haven’t finalized a decision, we are leaning toward purchasing our own building. This would provide members with equity and stabilize fees over the long term.

Our staff continues to perform at exceptional levels. Many of them have been with us since the beginning and have therefore progressed to the maximum of their salary grids – and I surely don’t have to explain salary grids to teachers during the first week of September! Staff members have earned their placement and we, as employers, must budget accordingly.

“The budget debate this year will be spirited.”

Mentioning a fee hike could send a shudder down the spines of teachers from Kenora to Kingston. Nobody wants one. We’ve held the line at $104 for six of the last eight years, the exception being those years when we managed the ill-conceived Professional Learning Program. While that program was terminated, inflation has continued unabated. Allowing for inflation, $104 in 2002 would equate to over $120 in 2009.

The budget debate this year will be spirited. Ontario’s teachers pay by far the lowest fee among self-regulating professionals in the province. Even if that fee increases, we will most assuredly maintain the lowest fee.

The fee decision belongs to the full Council, and I have only one vote. I am, however, in the unique position of having this space to address you, so there is no excuse for hiding my intentions. Simply put, it is increasingly clear to me that a fee increase is warranted and that I will support it.

Top of Page