Education minister sends letter asking school board trustees for support

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill speaks inside the radio room in a joint press conference with SSBA President Jamie Smith-Windsor on Thursday, March 28, 2024 in Regina.

Jeremy Cockrill wrote a letter asking school board trustees “to help make the case” for the government’s position in negotiations with teachers.

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

Amid an ongoing stalemate, Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill has asked school board trustees to back the government’s bargaining position in a letter sent Friday.

The letter was sent the same day the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) announced indefinite work-to-rule job action.

“I am counting on trustees to help make the case to the public that this round of bargaining has been about control and not our students,” wrote Cockrill, who also said in the letter that the STF had “moved the goalposts” several times following new offers from the government.

“This debate on whether to include class size and composition into the collective bargaining agreement, in any form, has significant implications for the role of local school boards going forward,” he wrote.

“Scott Moe’s minister has failed to get a deal done with teachers and now he’s desperate,” said NDP Education Critic Matt Love in an emailed statement sent Wednesday.

Jaimie Smith-Windsor, president of the Saskatchewan School Board Association (SSBA), didn’t say if it was out of step for the minister of education to reach out to trustees, asking them for help in promoting the government position.

“Boards are fundamentally autonomous, so the minister doesn’t direct trustees but does have ongoing conversation and regular contact with our boards of education,” Smith-Windsor said on Wednesday, also noting that past and best practices are for boards and trustees to not publicly engage or comment on bargaining.

She did add that the SSBA does believe matters of classroom complexity and composition are matters that belong outside of a contract.

“We don’t engage in public dialogue around bargaining, so that is something that boards prescribe to and typically adhere to during bargaining,” she said.

Speaking on Monday, the minister said he sent the letter to trustees to remind them “of the important role that they play in local governance around the province.”

He again said he feels “having language around class size, complexity and a contract would, I think, do significant damage to local governance in education in this province.”

That has been the sticking point through the historic job action undertaken by the STF in this round of contract negotiations. Teachers continue to seek accountability and mechanisms to ensure that money from the government is going to matters of classroom composition and complexity, which continue to rank as the top priorities in this round of bargaining.

Speaking Tuesday, STF President Samantha Becotte said recent comments made by the minister were encouraging and did present a path back to the bargaining table.

“We want to have real assurances that these things that are being put in place are going to be there for the long term. So we do want to see it put into our collective agreement,” she said.

Cockrill did say this week that he was open to putting an MOU regarding a proposed accountability framework for education funding into The Education Act. He also said he was not opposed to including that framework in a contract with the teachers.

Despite attempts to speak with school board trustees for this article, none offered comment on the letter from the minister.