The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation and their membership voted 85 per cent in favour of a new four-year Agreement in a vote that was held from May 19 to 21. For teachers, regaining lost purchasing power and alleviating challenges of class complexity were the two most important issues to address in this round of bargaining. Unfortunately, the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee was unwilling to include any provisions about class complexity in the Agreement.
The STF stated in a release on Thursday that these concerns were not addressed but the world has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic and this will allow them to focus on meeting the challenges.
STF President Patrick Maze said that the 85 per cent ratification number was positive.
“I think that the pandemic played into that and the economic uncertainties in the province and in the country and globally did as well,” Maze said.
The pandemic created the necessity to build the Provincial Response Education Team and their work made implementing a new class size and composition committee with expanded partners possible.
“That team has gone back to the traditional partners in education in order to make things work and I think they have done good work and it has produced results and had a fairly orderly education sector response to the pandemic and the planning that has gone on there,” he explained.
The committee’s structure is modelled after the Education Sector Response Planning Team and the Federation is cautiously optimistic a collaborative sector approach to COVID-19 response can be replicated to address class complexity.
“The Government’s commitment to revise the terms of reference and the membership of the class composition committee and formulate that around the lines of the Response Planning Team gives us a renewed hope that there is potential for some tangible results to come out of that class composition committee,” Maze explained.
The previous class competition committee, announced in November, 2019 that did not have a seat at the table for the STF and Maze felt the composition was stacked against them. The new committee has more traditional partners like the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, the deans of education from both the University of Saskatchewan and University of Regina and less Ministry of Education representation.
“It should give better representation to teachers, better representation to students and hopefully will produce some better results,” Maze said.
The new committee is a positive outcome from the shutdown of the education system because of the pandemic, Maze explained.
“The good work that the Response Planning Team has done gives us a bit of renewed hope that they can translate into better class composition across the province,” he said.
Maze noted that if the new committee doesn’t result in legitimate action on class composition from the government the issue could arise in future bargaining.
“ Bargaining is a long-term game for us and we don’t expect to get everything that we want in a contract. We need to build towards the future. So giving the government an opportunity to not have it in contract this round gives them an opportunity to get composition right so that we don’t have to bargain for it. And realistically, we shouldn’t have to bargain for students’ learning conditions. That should be government’s responsibility … to fund education for success.”
Another issue that the pandemic has brought to the forefront is the inequality that exists in the education system. Issues such as the gap in technology because of socioeconomic and rural versus urban differences and others can be addressed by the committee.
“The teachers are very concerned about those students during a pandemic when they don’t see the students daily and they don’t have the ability to check in on them and make sure they are doing okay. So we want to make sure that the Composition Committee is able to address some of those equity issues potentially and make sure that kids have a bit more level playing field so that they can all get the education they deserve,” Maze said.
“Things like having access to Wi-Fi and things like having a device at home that you can access Wi-Fi with. Finding out what the needs are of students is really eye opening sometimes to realize that some students don’t have access so we need to start addressing the needs where they are at,” he explained.
The Agreement will be effective from September 1, 2019 to August 31, 2023. Teachers will receive zero per cent in year one and two per cent increases in each of the following years. Government has agreed to create new educational regulations that would compel school boards to provide the Federation with a list of all substitute teachers each school year.
According to Maze, the length of the contract will give both sides time to work on relationships and see the progress of the class composition committee. He explained that bargaining is a lengthy process where there is at least a year and a half of preparation before the cycle begins anew.