Ontario’s new education minister wants to speed up negotiations with teachers' unions to avoid the potential of a strike before the start of the new school year.

Stephen Lecce says he believes the ministry and unions have a “moral duty” to keep children in the classroom this September by reaching a deal before teachers contracts expire on August 31.

“My hope is that we can expedite those discussions because I want to reach a deal, I believe in my heart we can,” Lecce told reporters at an event at York University on Tuesday.

However, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF), the union representing Ontario’s 60,000 public high school teachers, says the talks are still stuck in the initial stages — much of the bickering revolves about centralized bargaining versus allowing local units to negotiate the finer points, which are often specific to a region.

“Unfortunately the school boards association continues to bring forward virtually everything to be negotiated around the central table, which we found in the last round of bargaining was entirely unproductive,” Harvey Bischof, President of OSSTF, told CTV News Toronto.

The OSSTF has asked Ontario’s Labour Relations board to break the impasse, which could add a few days to the process. Bischof says while its “possible” to speed up contract talks, negotiators have yet to deal with a single substantive issue.

“We’re not seeing from them that there’s a great desire to move forward expeditiously.”

Lecce, who’s scheduled to sit down with Bischof this week, cautions that his “singular mission” is to see students in class this September.

“We need to work quicker. I want to see a deal reached before the end of the contract which is the 31st of August,” Lecce says.

When asked whether the government is willing to recall the legislature to impose a contract on unions that are threatening to strike, Lecce would only say he’s “prepared to listen to unions.”