A bitter labour dispute between the government and teachers last fall and winter resulted in extracurricular activity cancellations and even walkouts.
After teachers refused to give in to contract demands, the government used legislation to impose two-year contracts on many of the province's teachers in January.
But when Premier Kathleen Wynne took the province's reins, she re-started negotiations with the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO).
The government and unions came up with amendments to the contract in April, including improved maternity leave and sick day benefits. School boards were then instructed to sign off on the new contract, with an Aug. 29 deadline.
But so far, only eight out of more than 40 school boards have done so.
That includes the Rainbow District School Board, and OSSTF Rainbow District 3 president James Clyke said his members may be forced to act to urge them into action.
Because the union is under a collective agreement, it can't engage in formal strike action, but members could withdraw certain services, he said.
“I do know all the teachers and support staff certainly don't want anything like that, but if it's a last option, then it is possible,” Clyke said.
OSSTF provincial president Paul Elliott said Aug. 15 that his members have been left with “unsettled contracts, no security and nothing but questions” and called on the education minister to intervene.
If the boards don't sign off on the amendments by Sept. 4, Elliott said he'll hold discussions with union leaders to “discuss possible actions.”
Rainbow District School Board vice-chair Dena Morrison said she doesn't expect the board to sign off on the contract amendments before the Aug. 29 deadline.
She said the board wants to negotiate local issues with the unions, something that's missing from the current legislated contract. School boards were not included in the discussions that resulted in the contract amendments.
When asked if the board will append the amendments to the current contract, Morrison said she didn't want to comment on that, as she prefers to leave certain things at the bargaining table.
However, Morrison said the board has run into some trouble when it comes to negotiating with the OSSTF.
She said the board had initial meetings with the union's provincial negotiators in June, and then the union cancelled any further meetings. The board continues to meet with the ETFO on the issue, she said.
While the OSSTF said the province has promised to set aside $160 million to implement the contract amendments, Morrison said that funding doesn't cover everything.
When asked if there could be labour disruptions again this year, Morrison said she doesn't think so. “We have a collective agreement in place, and neither side are in a position to either lock out or strike,” she said.
While Clyke's recollection of events differs somewhat from Morrison's, he agrees things didn't go well when his union attempted to negotiate with the board in June.
“They told us at that time and before then that they would not be appending the MOU to the collective agreement,” he said.
“They told us at that time they would not be signing off on anything. They told us they would not be signing any type of attestation saying that they would append (the amendments). At that point, that's when negotiations broke off with Rainbow.”
Clyke said he thinks the biggest factor behind the board's refusal to sign off on the contract amendments is a lack of funding.
Morrison said it's frustrating that the final format of the current contract is still up in the air, given that it's been a topic of discussion for about a year and a half now.
“We'll soon be having to open discussions on the next contract,” she said. “That starts in August 2014.”