Much of the discussion surrounding the labour dispute between the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation and the provincial government has been dominated by class size and classroom complexity. The STF has called for this to be included in the new collective agreement between teachers and the province – as it is in other provinces such as Quebec and British Columbia – while the provincial government has held steadfast that they will not include it in a new collective agreement.
So, what is classroom complexity?
“When we talk about classroom complexity, we can talk about things such as the supports that are needed within the class, based on things like the complexity of needs within the classroom, the specific subjects being taught, the number of grades in a room,” explained Keith Keating. He is the Director of Education with the South East Cornerstone Public School Division, the largest school division in the southeast corner of the province.
Throughout the province, the challenges facing the various school divisions are linked to the diversity of needs. Keating pointed to SECPSD as an example, with some very small schools with multiple grades in a single class, to large schools with up to 950 students, such as Weyburn Comprehensive School. He noted when it comes to class size and complexity, the locally elected boards are the ones in the best position to utilize the resources provided to address the needs at the school level.
This is something nearly all of the parties involved in education agree on – school divisions are best suited for handling classroom complexity. How to address those needs is where there is a large difference.
“At one point in time, prior to 2009, boards were able to levy a mill rate to manage differences in need both within their division and at local schools,” said Keating. “That’s now managed at the provincial level. That makes it much more difficult to manage both class size and complexity, as it’s highly dependent upon that funding model.”
School divisions are now completely reliant on the provincial government for the education funding under the existing model. The education portion of property taxes is now collected by the municipality and then remitted to the provincial government. From there, the funds are distributed to the 27 school divisions. The allotment is based purely on the projected enrolment numbers for a division. In recent years, however, divisions have been dealing with deficit budgets and making cutbacks, including eliminating various positions and in some cases, cancelling programs entirely.
The provincial government did announce extra funding for classroom size and composition in June of last year. An extra $20 million was distributed among all 27 school divisions. Despite the extra funding, both divisions in the southeast, SECPSD and Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division, had deficit budgets for the current school year.