Premier Doug Ford’s government is temporarily revoking a policy that for the past decade has forced Ontario school boards to hire only from a pool of teachers with the most seniority.
The hiring rule “rewards union seniority over one’s merit,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday in announcing the province’s move to repeal the policy, known as Regulation 274.
“This is about giving principals more flexibility to hire the very best teaching staff,” Lecce told a news conference in Vaughan. “Merit will lead hiring in our schools.”
The revocation is being triggered by hiring delays experienced by school boards this fall as they responded to the staffing changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Lecce.
Smaller class sizes in some grades and locations around Ontario, combined with surging demand for online learning meant a sudden spike in job openings for teachers in recent weeks, prompting many school boards to go on hiring sprees.
But the restrictions of the rule meant that principals could not fill the vacancies quickly enough, said Lecce.
“They are constrained by an outdated process when they need to get qualified teachers into the class right now,” he said. “This regulation, more than it ever did, is impeding the ability to swiftly hire,” he said.
The policy was created by the then-Liberal government in 2012.
When school boards post a new teaching job, the regulation requires them to hire only from among the five applicants with the most seniority as long-term supply teachers, provided they have the necessary academic qualifications.
“For nearly a decade, Ontario has hired educators based on seniority and that did not serve our students well. In fact, it undermined the quality of teaching in many cases,” Lecce said. .
While the Ford government proposed eliminating the rule at the education bargaining table last year, the collective agreements eventually signed with the province’s teachers unions kept it in place. However, the government retained the right to rescind the policy, as all such regulations are subject to cabinet approval.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario accused Lecce of “spinning myths” about hiring.
Some school boards have suggested the rule makes it harder for younger applicants straight out of their education degree to break into the system and constrains boards from diversifying the teaching workforce.
The umbrella group of Ontario’s public school boards welcomed the move.
“Transparent and equitable hiring practices are essential in order to ensure a highly qualified teacher workforce that reflects the diversity of students and school communities, and meets local needs,” said Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, in a statement.
While Lecce characterized the move to rescind the rule as temporary, he did not give a timeframe for putting it back in place.