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The Ontario government has bought peace with the province's public elementary school teachers by providing $773 million (U.S.) to local school boards.

Education Minister Gerard Kennedy announced last week that the government had reached a "framework" deal with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario that will allow the 31 local boards to conclude four-year contracts meeting the union's bargaining demands. He said he expected to conclude similar deals with other teacher unions.

The government of Premier Dalton McGuinty, Kennedy said, "has taken a new approach to ensuring peace and stability in our schools."

The move for a "unified agenda" involving the government, teachers and school boards was "without precedent" but necessary because "peace and stability are prerequisites for progress," he said.

The deal provides local boards with the money to offer pay raises of at least 2 percent annually and to hire 1,300 teachers specializing in music, art and physical education. The additional teachers would allow schools to give teachers the 200 minutes a week of preparation time that their union was seeking.

The Education Ministry estimated the cumulative cost of the deal over four years at $773 million (U.S.) with an annualized additional cost of $374.5 million (U.S.) by 2008-09. About $75.09 million (U.S.) of this annual cost is for hiring the specialist teachers.

Emily Noble, union president, said that the deal offers an improvement in teachers' working conditions and that she foresees no difficulty in selling it. "I believe that while the framework is a good deal for teachers, it is an even better one for the elementary students of Ontario," she said.

Noble said her 50,000 members would suspend their work-to-rule campaign until June 1 to allow local school boards to reach new contracts. She said "there is no reason" that the boards cannot conclude new agreements with the money they will receive.

In addition to the wage increases totaling 10.2 percent through Aug. 31, 2008 and the hiring of 1,300 teachers, the framework also calls for reimbursing teachers up to $500 for out-of-pocket expenses and establishing a new "provincial stability commission" to handle problems arising during the life of the contract.

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