Hope fades as standstill between STF, province persists

Regina Leader-Post photos. (L) STF president Samantha Becotte speaks to the press after question period inside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, March 14, 2024 in Regina. (R) Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill speaks to the press after question period inside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Thursday, March 14, 2024 in Regina.

The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation says the province isn’t budging on making a potential accountability framework binding.

Angela Amato, Regina Leader-Post

While the potential of an accountability framework provided a sliver of hope, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) says the province isn’t budging on making it binding, making more job action likely.

Conversations on resuming negotiations are ongoing, said a statement from the Ministry of Education on Thursday, but STF president Samantha Becotte said she heard crickets the five days following a joint news conference held by Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill and the school boards association last week to talk about the framework.

“There is still a big reluctance from the government and the Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) to put anything into the collective agreement,” said Becotte in an interview Thursday, adding the province reached out to the STF Wednesday but stopped short of providing details on what was discussed.

Government and school boards “remain firm” that class size and complexity will not be included in the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the ministry’s statement said.

“However, government has offered the STF the ability to participate in the development of the accountability framework memorandum of understanding (MOU) and the subsequent framework,” the statement continued.

But Becotte says there still needs to be something to ensure the MOU is binding.

“We’re still looking for those mechanisms and without that, really, anything put into an MOU is no more than a handshake deal,” she said. “It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.”

Although the province and the federation appear to be running around in circles, Becotte says some progress has been made and she is encouraged by comments made by Cockrill, who acknowledges the need for more funding and that class complexity is a significant issue for students and teachers across the province.

Becotte continued to stress the need for accountability, saying the STF has heard informally of some divisions using the $40 million provided last year to address class complexity to retire debt instead.

“We want to ensure there are real commitments around getting more support for students and that school boards are truly held accountable,” she said. “Without a dispute resolution put into an MOU, it’s not really an accountability framework, it’s just a reporting framework.

“There needs to be a way to hold both or all parties accountable to the commitments they’re making.”

The province says the STF’s involvement in the MOU would allow teachers to have direct input in the formation of the accountability framework that would oversee the utilization of $356.6 million for classroom supports announced in the budget last month.

“We want to find a solution that works for Saskatchewan,” said Becotte. “It needs to work for teachers, it needs to work for government and school boards. But most importantly it needs to work for students.”

While students are expected to return to class next week after spring break, Becotte says more job action may be on the horizon.

“We’re committed to negotiating anytime, day or night, weekday, weekend,” she said. “We’ll get to the table when we have tangible commitments.”

With graduation on the horizon, parents and students across the province have expressed concerns over whether seniors will have the opportunity to don their caps and gowns.

“We want those to happen,” said Becotte. “Teachers want to be supporting them. That’s why they volunteer their time to support those events. But we need to have those assurances that students are going to be supported so they can get to graduation.”

Last week during a press conference with the SSBA, Cockrill said the province will ensure grad activities go on as planned despite the potential for further job action.

While details on the province’s plan are sparse, Cockrill said the ministry will be working with school divisions to ensure seniors have the chance to walk across the stage.

“It just shows the length this government is going to avoid making and coming to an agreement with teachers on class size and complexity,” said Becotte on Thursday.