Teacher job action still a possibility as Saskatchewan education minister offers more resources

Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze speaks with reporters after hearing an offer for more classroom resources from the education minister on Mar. 5, 2020. Adrian Raaber/Global News

Education Minister Gordon Wyant says the province introduced a new bargaining mandate with the hope of getting the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) back to the bargaining table, but the STF says the two sides remain far apart.

The minister also talked about additional resources the government is prepared to put forward to deal with issues of class size and composition. This issue has been the sticking point in contract talks with teachers.

“They’ll be provided presumably through the budget, that’s a conversation we’ll certainly have to have. The budget is coming down in less than two weeks now, so that will be a budgetary item,” Wyant said.

The minister met with the STF president Patrick Maze and Saskatchewan School Board Association president Shawn Davidson for two hours Thursday afternoon in Regina.

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Wyant said he’d told Maze what the potential contributions from the province would be. He declined to say what they are publicly, saying it will come in the March 18 provincial budget.

However, Maze said the two sides remain far apart and this proposal from the government is not enough to avoid the threat of job action.

“[Wyant] committed last week that he would go back to cabinet and Treasury Board and discuss bringing some extra supports. So the supports that came back were obviously inadequate to what we see as necessary in classrooms right across the province,” Maze said.

“It’s just words at this point until we see some firm numbers both in the contract and in the classroom supports.”

The STF has been steadfast in wanting to include ways to address issues of class size and composition in collective bargaining. Wyant is firmly against this idea. He said this would turn principals into “compliance officers”, trying to hit classroom quotas.

Maze said if rules around class size and composition are included in the contract they can better hold the government to account on what they say is proper classroom resourcing.

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The STF president added that they don’t plan on returning to the bargaining table yet. The plan is to wait for the dollars and cents for Wyant’s proposal to be revealed on budget day.

“Ultimately the big issue for this point is classroom complexities. Everyone agrees it’s a problem, but government seems to say ‘trust us it will get better,’ but they’re the ones that have been responsible for this issue over the last several years,” Maze said.

The STF walked away from the bargaining table on Jan. 24, when they said the conciliation process failed.

In February, teachers voted 90 per cent in support of potential job action. This could include cancelling extracurricular activities to a full-scale strike.

When it comes to addressing classroom issues, such as high numbers of students or issues of English-as-an-additional language supports, Wyant said they will all take time to address.

“Certainly there’s individual challenges in the classroom, whether they’re behavioural challenges. As I said, I don’t think we can solve every problem in every classroom overnight,” Wyant said.

“We really have to be quite directive when it comes to the amount of resources we’re prepared to put forward and how they’re going to be deployed,” Wyant said.

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