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HCA outdoor education classes survive Bill 115 scare

Schools reschedule sessions to avoid $150 penalty

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The Hamilton Conservation Authority’s outdoor education program has managed to salvage nearly all of the classes cancelled as part of teachers’ boycott of extracurricular activities, including by going on the road.

Manager Beth Stormont said staff adapted a Nature On Wheels Eco Outreach program to travel to schools as part of a strategy to recover 28 session lost to the protest over Bill 115.

As of last Thursday, 25 classes had opted to either reschedule visits to the Dundas Valley Trail Centre or have the outreach program come to their schools, rather than pay a $150 cancellation penalty, she said.

The authority has a five-year agreement with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board to provide 115 sessions per year at a daily rate of $500.

“We’re doing the best we can to adapt to a situation that hopefully won’t go on too much longer,” Stormont said in a presentation to the authority budget and administration committee last Thursday.

“The important thing is that we’re keeping our program active and alive out in the school board,” she said. “So far we have done about a dozen Nature On Wheels trips into the schools and have been honouring our agreement in that way.”

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation leaders voted on Feb. 22 to ask their members to end the boycott of extracurricular activities, and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario has vowed to review its position by the end of this week.

The boycott came in response to Bill 115, which imposed contracts on teachers that included a two-year wage freeze and cuts to sick and retirement benefits.

Stormont said the authority’s charity, the Hamilton Conservation Foundation, pitched in to keep the outdoor program running by continuing to provide a grant to cover busing costs for inner-city schools, one that had been set to end in 2012.

“It’s been very much a cooperative effort from all departments,” she said.

Authority vice-chair Jim Howlett afterwards praised Stormont’s own efforts, noting the Bill 115 scare is the second time she has managed to save the outdoor education program by being creative.

He said the authority had to eliminate her department in the mid-1990s due to a $2-million cut in provincial funding, but provided a van for the Nature On Wheels program, allowing displaced staff to continue as private contractors.

The authority program was reinstated about three years later, he said.

“She’s the one who has been down a very rocky road and has never faltered,” Howlett said. “My goodness, that’s devotion and amazing resilience and adaptability.”

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