Classroom crowding strategy to be included in Saskatchewan’s 2020-21 budget

Education Minister Gordon Wyant speaks with the media in a May, 2018 file photo. Adrian Raaber/Global News

A committee tasked with figuring out ways to address capacity challenges in classrooms will have their recommendations included in the next provincial budget.

Issues around crowded classrooms and increasingly diverse student needs have been a major classroom concern in recent years.

For the first time ever, classroom size and composition was listed as the main issue, along with pay, by members of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) ahead of entering contract talks with the province.

READ MORE: Educators continue to raise concerns over class sizes in Saskatchewan

Education Minister Gordon Wyant said that he does not want classroom size and composition discussed as a bargaining table issue, instead pitching a committee that will come up with recommendations from the province.

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Now, the minister has revealed details of what this committee will look like. It will have nine members: four from the ministry, one from the STF, one from the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, an academic leader, a professional staff member and a parent.

Wyant said the parent will be chosen from a number of parents who have reached out to the ministry expressing concern about classroom size/composition. Wyant said some are parents of students with higher needs, a group he wants to hear from. However, the final decision falls to ministry officials.

“We want to have a fairly small committee so it doesn’t get bogged down in process,” Wyant said.

Their mandate will be to review class size, student demographics/class composition trends in Saskatchewan’s pre-K-Grade 12 institutions.

STF president Patrick Maze said he’s happy to see the province taking this issue seriously, but still wants to see rules for class size and composition included in the collective agreement being negotiated with the province. Maze said the STF plans on pushing this next week when bargaining resumes.

“The committee itself is a bit of a disappointment. It comes across to me as a bit of a run around the collective bargaining process,” Maze said.

“Discussing this outside of bargaining, when we’re discussing this very topic, comes across as bad faith negotiating.”

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Maze added he feels this committee only exists because the STF has been pushing for it at the bargaining table because they had been raising these concerns since last year.

READ MORE: Province wants to discuss class size with STF, but away from bargaining table

This information will form the basis for a report on best practices from other jurisdictions. This report will also include recommendations, with the goal of implementing them in the final provincial budget before the 2020 election.

According to the province, this committee will have its first meeting by the end of November, and deliver its findings by the end of March 2020.

This will be shortly before the release of the 2020-21 provincial budget. Wyant said he will be working with the treasury board to ensure there can be some flexibility in planning the education budget.

“I’m not going to prejudge what the results of this consultation is going to look like, but certainly I can’t imagine that they’re not going to come out with some recommendations that aren’t going to require some financial assistance to support them. So that’s a conversation I have to have with my colleagues,” Wyant said.

Education critic Carla Beck said she will wait and see what recommendations the committee comes up with, but added people want to see expedited action. She said this has been a recurring theme at town halls and surveys the NDP has hosted.

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“They want action today and have some reasonable hesitancy about these committees that we’ve seen before,” Beck said.

As for recommendations that will likely cost money in an expected tight budget year, Beck said they can’t push off resourcing classrooms any longer.

“The needs, the urgency is very high right around the province. They need to be hearing this at that budget table, they need to be taking action. To suggest another committee is what’s needed is completely out of line with what we’re seeing today,” Beck said.

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