Tentative agreement between province and teachers excludes class composition

A tentative agreement has been reached between the Teachers’ bargaining Committee and the provincial government.

The news was announced late Wednesday.

With the numerous changes to the environment because of the COVID-19 pandemic Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation president Patrick Maze there was a renewed need to find a resolution.

“Teachers are incredibly stressed as they work to get their lesson online and reach out to students and they have been doing a great job of that. But it is stressful and having an open contract at this time is just an additional stresser,” Maze said.

Next steps include the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation taking it to its 13,000 teacher members to vote on the new contract.

“This tentative agreement balances our respect and appreciation for teachers with the fiscal realities of the province,” Deputy Premier and Education Minister Gordon Wyant said

The members voted on the bargaining proposals a year ago and to conduct sanctions in March. “Since those two votes occurred so much has changed that we believe that it was important to get back to members and make sure that we are on the same page,” Maze explained.

Classroom composition remains a contentious issue. One teacher in Prince Albert has already stated on social media that he will not be voting to ratify because of the exclusion of the issue.

“That is how bad the situation is in our classrooms that teachers were willing to withdraw services and overwhelmingly agree to a sanctions vote and were overwhelmingly in support of sanctions. So it’s a critical issue, government admits it’s a problem and government is basically now tasked with listening to recommendations that come from this committee and making sure that they act on them. If they don’t then there will be no surprise when it appears as a proposal in our very next set of negotiations,” Maze explained.

Maze stated that the government was committed to negotiating a contract but it is up to them to get the issue of classroom composition correct.

“This provides some security for teachers and gives potentially a path forward with class composition,” Maze said.

“It doesn’t specifically address class composition which was one of the biggest items that teachers did put in our proposal package. Instead we are hoping that class composition can be dealt with away from the bargaining table by the class composition committee that is restructured and revised and has a better voice from teachers.”

The Federation remains committed to solving class size and composition through ongoing advocacy and participation on a new class complexity committee.

The deans of education from the universities of Saskatchewan and Regina will join. Maze said the committee will have better representation and give teachers more voice.

“Given the good work that the provincial Response Team to the pandemic has had, the good work that they have done, we are given better hope to a committee to find some resolution to class composition,” Maze explained.

Maze said the committee is not perfect but membership will determine if it meets their needs through their vote in the ratification process.

A strong majority — 92 per cent of STF members — voted in favour of teacher sanctions. Maze said the union will be watching the class composition issue closely, and the government both knows and has admitted it’s a problem.

“We will be paying very close attention and expecting some tangible results coming out of this committee,” Maze said.

Teachers are expected to vote on the tentative agreement within the next four to six weeks. The Federation is finalizing details on how the vote will be conducted in a manner that ensures members’ health and safety in light of COVID-19 while also ensuring a rigorous process that is transparent and accountable. Details will be provided in the coming weeks.

If ratified, the new agreement would be effective from September 1, 2019 to August 31, 2023. The proposed agreement includes: salary increases of zero percent in 2019, two percent in 2020, two percent in 2021 and two percent in 2022, increases to allowances for principals, vice-principals and assistant principals of zero percent in 2019, two percent in 2020, two percent in 2021 and two percent in 2022 and at the beginning of each school year, all school boards will provide the STF with contact information of all approved substitute teachers. Any changes are to be reported to the STF monthly.

“The terms of our offer mean that Saskatchewan teachers will have stability for years to come and be paid at five per cent above the Western Canadian Average.” Wyant said.