In a media conference on Friday, April 5th, STF President Samantha Becotte confirmed the escalation of the STF job action. Despite cautious optimism going into the Easter weekend, the two sides were unable to take any further steps toward consensus. “What we were discussing this week is a commitment they will do what they are committing to do. Not a pinky promise deal, not a deal with an escape clause, not an accountability framework that only includes reporting mechanisms but nothing that holds people accountable for the decisions that they are making. One line in an agreement that says that they will follow through on their commitments.” 

That one line, “The Parties agree that the Multi-Year Funding Agreement and the Accountability Framework will be followed and honoured,” is about the additional funding promised in a memorandum of understanding between the government and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association. The MOU agreement promises a minimum of $356.6 million per year for four years for classroom supports, which reflects a $45 million increase over the 2023 fiscal year. With the signing of the agreement on March 8th, Minister Cockrill issued a statement saying it signified a “shared commitment to enhancing educational outcomes” and was a “written guarantee, signed by the government, for long-term funding for classroom supports – funding that will address important issues like classroom size and complexity.”

However, the deal gives the province an out if they want it. Written into the agreement is the clause that states it may be amended at any time with the written agreement of all parties. With the knowledge that the province can reduce school boards or eliminate them through legislation, and the evidence provided by their inaction of the Notwithstanding Clause to circumvent the challenges to the Parents Rights Bill, it is feasible to conclude that school boards could find themselves ‘forced’ to agree to the bidding of the government. The Multi-Year Funding Agreement’s allocation chart even indicates that any funding increases for the 2024-25, 2025-26, 2026-27, and 2027-28 fiscal years “are to be considered in future budget cycles” and are “subject to appropriation” meaning it could be clawed back or used for things other than addressing class size and complexity. As the 2024-25 budget has been tabled since the agreement was signed, that only leaves the next three years up for debate, and the inclusion of the phrase subject to appropriation, means that the agreement is anything but a guarantee. In the words of SSBA president Jamie Smith-Windsor in response to the one-time extra funding for education announced in June 2023, “One-off funding just does not work for boards. Predictability is so important to education, and that is what’s needed to create the kind of stability that we need in Saskatchewan education… for sufficiency and predictability that is built right into funding distribution.”

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation has repeatedly called for committed increases in funding to meet the needs of students in the province’s classrooms. ‘Kids’ needs won’t magically disappear,’ Becotte has said more than once, and funding that is there one year and gone the next, does not allow schools to build in the supports that are needed. “I know they [the provincial government] will walk back on any commitments to either of those two agreements [the Multi-Year Funding Agreement with the SSBA and the Accountability Framework proposed to teachers] and if they weren’t going to, why couldn’t they make the agreement.”

As of Monday, April 8th, teachers started job action which restricts their hours of service to 15 minutes before the school day begins and 15 minutes after the school day ends. It also removes teachers from providing all voluntary services, including noon-hour supervision and extra-curricular activities including graduation planning. The intransigence and refusal to negotiate with teachers in good faith in addressing the priority issues, has led Saskatchewan teachers to take additional sanction action. The job action will continue indefinitely until the government and the leadership of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association are “ready to make a real commitment and begin negotiations in good faith,” said Becotte.

Teachers, Becotte said, know that the issues in classrooms are not going to be fixed in a year and they are looking for commitments that efforts to improve the conditions in Saskatchewan classrooms will continue in upcoming years. Teachers want a solution that will work for Saskatchewan, but they need a solution that will be around longer than an election year promise. Teachers believe that Minister Cockrill will move to make the Multi-year Funding Agreement or the Accountability Framework magically disappear once the election is over, or a CBA has been signed because, if they did not plan to do that, why would they so adamantly refuse to put it in writing? “When the actions of government continually contradict their words, it is difficult to trust anything they say.”

The Government Trustee Bargaining Committee continues to refuse to engage in binding arbitration even though the teachers have made the offer twice.

Work to rule means that teachers will not complete any work-related activities outside of the school day meaning they will not take marking home with them and they will not be planning lessons after they leave the school. Work to rule is in essence, an admission that it is impossible for teachers to accomplish all their assigned tasks during their workday. It is also an admission that schools can exploit teachers by expecting them to not only take work home to complete but also by creating a culture of pressure and expectation within schools for teachers to ‘volunteer’ for extracurricular activities. School boards in their local agreements can determine how many hours of extra-curricular activity can result in an earned day off (EDO) with some being as high as 100 hours or more. Work to rule is not refusing to work, just refusing to be walked over in the process.

By Carol Baldwin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 11, 2024 at 20:20

This item reprinted with permission from   Wakaw Recorder   Wakaw, Saskatchewan
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