Conciliation report urges province, STF to ‘keep talking’ about classroom complexity

Larissa Kurz/Regina Leader-Post Samantha Becotte, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, speaks at the Rally for Education at the Legislature in Regina on Saturday April 29, 2023.

by Alec Salloum

Regina Leader-Post

After 10 rounds of bargaining, five days of conciliation and now a report from an independent board, Samantha Becotte hopes her union and the province can get back to meaningful bargaining.

Becotte, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF), said on Monday a conciliators report shows more daylight between the two sides than it does common ground. She hopes the report from the conciliation board can form a new mandate and a new proposal from the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee (GTBC).

“There are some items, because we were so far apart within our two positions on the bargaining teams, that they weren’t able to provide a recommendation,” said Becotte of the report. Specifically, she said no recommendation was made with respect to salary since the province has not changed its initial offer in previous bargaining sessions.

Becotte said a section of the report spoke in favour of the STF being able to bargain on the matter of class complexity, which she said was “significant” given the province’s firm stance against it in the past.

“The board agrees with what teachers have been saying for the last 10 years, that they have a right to negotiate their working conditions,” she said.

She added that tentative agreements have been reached with teacher unions in Ontario and Quebec with respect to class complexity.

In an emailed statement sent Monday, Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill held firm in his position that class complexity is not a matter to be bargained.

“The GTBC also notes that the Conciliation Board did not recommend class size and composition be included as a part of the bargaining discussions,” said Cockrill.

But a section on class complexity from the conciliation board report that does say salary “and classroom size are arguably meaningfully associated with one another such that teachers might reasonably expect to be given the opportunity to negotiate an acceptable balance between the two.”

The report encourages the two sides to “keep talking” on the matter of class complexity.

“Though both agree that class size and complexity are ongoing challenges to be addressed, they cannot agree on the manner in which they ought to be dealt with,” read the report. “The Board is not prepared to make a recommendation in that regard. It is far too complicated a matter, involving legal arguments of statutory interpretation and Charter principles.”

Also on Monday, the province announced it will be putting $3.6 million toward a pilot program for specialized supports in the classroom which will run from February to the end of the 2024-2025 school year. Eight school divisions have been selected including Saskatoon Public and Light of Christ Catholic Schools. All divisions selected for the pilot are in “urban areas” according to a press release from the province.

For Becotte, the timing was interesting.

“It is a clear admission of government that they agree class complexity is increasing and needs to be addressed,” she said.

She said she believes it is a way for the government to “sidestep our collective bargaining process.”

According to the government, the program will offer “specialized supports to help students practice self-regulation skills while also addressing the impacts of disruptions in the home classroom. The release goes on to say the pilot will be staffed “by a minimum of one teacher and two educational assistants” with a capacity for 15 students at time, to be supported by other staff like psychologists and counsellors.

Matt Love, NDP education critic, said in an emailed statement the government “is clearly not interested in dealing with very real concerns around bettering student learning conditions and ensuring our teachers and students have the supports they need to be successful.”