School division, past trustees speak out in support of teachers

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Striking teachers and their supporters march around the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on Monday, March 4, 2024 in Regina. This action coincides with the first day of the spring legislative session.

A statement from the Regina Catholic School Division said increased funding to support resources for students is needed.

Angela Amato, Regina Leader-Post

Regina Catholic Schools is the first division in the province to officially break silence in support of teachers, amid weeks of job action with seemingly no end on the horizon.

“Over the past few weeks there has been a focus on funding for education and teachers. Numerous thoughts have been shared with our board regarding our lack of public commentary throughout this period,” said a statement from Regina Catholic School Division (RCSD) issued last week.

Provincial school divisions are represented at the bargaining table by the Saskatchewan School Board Association (SSBA). The school division said while they aim to approach bargaining neutrally, that does not mean they are silent.

“It means we are sharing our voice with our representatives who are at the bargaining table,” said the statement. “We are part of the SSBA but we do not lose sight of our local responsibilities to provide the best possible learning environment in RCSD.”

But when approached for an interview, RCSD chair Shauna Weninger​ said they will not be speaking to media “in order to protect the integrity of the bargaining process and ensuring the messaging stays on budget conversations.”

“For several years now we have been in a deficit situation and we have had no choice but to cut items from the budget,” said the statement. “There has been no room to increase resources we know our students and staff require and deserve.”

The RCSD says increased funding is desperately needed, adding they have “spoken publicly about the need to address classroom size and complexity.”

STF president Samantha Becotte emphasized the importance of public support from school divisions to show the daily realities they face.

“I recognize the difficult position local trustees are in and that they have elected officials at the provincial level representing them and should be representing their interests,” said Becotte in an interview Tuesday.

“While local trustees might be in a difficult position to oppose their provincial organizations’ perspectives, we really hope they are having those conversations and ensuring that their provincial organization is accurately reflecting the interest of the local school boards.”

Last month, the teachers’ union criticized the SSBA for proposing the establishment of a fund outside of bargaining to handle class complexity and composition.

The STF is firm on its belief that funding outside of the contract will not be effective enough to properly address the issues plaguing students teachers.

In a letter to the editor published by the Leader-Post, retired teacher and former school board member Meg Shatilla took issue with the SSBA’s proposal, saying that having classroom size and complexity incorporated into the collective agreement would help prevent “incompetence and willful blindness.”

“The reality is, some (committee members) run for school boards because they have a grudge against teachers, see it as a political stepping-stone to provincial or federal politics, like the sense of power and self-importance, or value the stipend,” wrote Shatilla. “Most boards aren’t black and white. Many are problematic.”

Approximately 3,500 STF members took to the picket lines at the Saskatchewan legislature Monday, according to the STF. RCSD teacher Andrea McGill likened her experience in the classroom to a game of “whack-a-mole.”

“When you are alone in a room full of 30 kids, the ones that are going to get your attention are the louder ones,” said McGill at Monday’s strike. “But there are a ton that are experiencing the same level of anxiety, discomfort, stress and confusion with the learning that is internalized, and we can’t get to them.”

“You literally cannot take care of all of the needs, you’re just trying to keep it contained.”

The STF announced further job sanctions on Tuesday, with the withdrawal of noon-hour supervision on March 8 at several school divisions across the province including Christ the Teacher Catholic School Division, Good Spirit School Division, North East School Division, Prairie Spirit School Division, Regina Catholic Schools, Saskatoon Public Schools and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, South East Cornerstone School Division, Living Sky School Division and Light of Christ Catholic School Division, and Sakewew High School.