With teachers in Saskatchewan set to stage a second one-day strike on Monday, the opposition NDP is calling on the Saskatchewan Party government to invest what needs to be invested in classrooms.
“They’ve been cutting learning supports in our classrooms for the better part of a decade,” said Education Critic Matt Love. “We’ve seen cuts to per-student funding. The result is school divisions have very little control over what they can offer when they simply don’t have the resources to offer those supports.”
The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation membership voted overwhelmingly in favour of job action in October when an impasse was declared in their collective agreement negotiations with the provincial government. The matter went to a conciliator, but no resolution was reached. The teachers gave a five-day notice of job action and then walked off the job for one day last Tuesday. They are following that up with another walkout planned for Monday.
The STF has stated the province is only willing to negotiate one of the ten things brought forward by the STF – salaries. Other issues the teachers want to have as part of the agreement, such as classroom complexity and class size, are non-starters, according to the government.
“These solutions don’t need to be in collective bargaining,” Love pointed out. “They’re coming forward here because this government has failed to address them in every other avenue that they have at their disposal.”
The education critic noted this includes consulting with teachers, parents and school boards, as well as pressing to get a report from a committee created four years ago to look at the issues.
“They had lots of ways, if they wanted to, to adequately resource our classrooms. The fact is they failed to do that, and it’s our kids who are paying.”
The government has said they do recognize classroom size and complexity is an issue, but will not move from their stance. Speaking to the media on Thursday, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer, who served as the Minister of Education the last time teachers in Saskatchewan went on strike, stated including classroom complexity at the bargaining table is problematic.
“It’s very problematic to have it at a collective bargaining table, in that they’re not the only profession that is in the education system,” she told reporters, adding other professionals would need to be hired to address the classroom complexity issues. To that effect, it would mean the issue is best left to the school divisions themselves to address with the funding provided to them by the provincial government.
In June the provincial government had announced $40 million more in education funding for the province’s 27 school divisions. For South East Cornerstone Public School Division, this included $817,830 to address class size and composition concerns and $31,800 for estimated enrolment growth. Holy Family Roman Catholic Separate School Division saw an additional $96,528 for classroom composition and $62,400 for projected enrolment growth.
SECPSD, with the additional funding of $849,630, ended up with a $2.9 million operating cash deficit for the current school year, while HFRCSSD posted a deficit of $1,296,926 despite the increase in funding.
Love recognized the STF has done a better job of getting their messaging out to the public since they first gave the five-day notice ahead of last Tuesday’s walkout. By comparison, he said the government hasn’t been as effective at communicating.
“I think that what we have from the provincial government is some very, what I would call, desperate messaging, where they’ve changed their message in a number of ways, and they’ve actually presented some very misleading evidence to the people of Saskatchewan,” he said.
One example of misleading information, according to Love, is the use of the phrase per capita funding for education.
“There’s no system in Canada that funds education on a per capita basis,” Love said. He added the fact education isn’t funded on a per capita model is something that was reiterated by former Education Minister Dustin Duncan.
“I’ve absolutely been correcting the record on that as the government and Premier Moe have fallen back on spreading that type of divisive and misleading information and bringing it back to the issues that are at hand, which are the needs our students have, how many children are in the classroom, what needs do they have, and is our system able to meet those needs.”
The walkout planned for Monday is scheduled for just one day. At this time, no further word on other job action has been announced by the STF.