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December 28, 2002

Tough year ends happily for educators in London and region

From: London Free Press, Canada - 28 Dec 2002

By HANK DANISZEWSKI, Free Press Education Reporter

It was a tough year with a happy ending for local educators as years of tight budgets triggered a long-simmering showdown with the provincial government.

The Thames Valley District school board was in trouble early on for charging user fees to get through the financial crunch.

When parent complaints surfaced in the media, education minister Janet Ecker cracked down, declaring the fees illegal and forcing the board to give refunds. Board budget woes continued and trustees turned to the public for support.

Threatened cuts to guidance and librarians sent students into the streets in protest. They argued counsellors were essential in a year when they were under intense pressure as part of the "double cohort."

It was a tough spring for deaf and learning disabled students at the Robarts and Amythest schools. The school were shut down by a strike of support workers.

Elizabeth Witmer took over as Education Minister in April, promising to make peace by overhauling the school funding formula, long denounced by boards and teacher unions.

Soon Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton school boards were in open revolt, defying the provincial government by passing deficit budgets.

The Thames Valley District school board almost joined the revolt in June when trustees voted to pass a deficit budget.

When a plea to the ministry for more funding was rejected, board staff quietly submitted a balanced budget.

The bigger boards went to the wall and were taken over by provincial supervisors.

The London District Catholic board managed to avoid a budget crisis but lost director Pat Dunne to retirement.

The Thames Valley board was hit by labour trouble in November when elementary teachers launched a campaign to back contract demands. Weeks after a settlement came news of $2 billion more in funding and a three per cent raise for teachers.

Copyright © 2002, The London Free Press. All rights reserved.