STF president disappointed in premier’s attempts to ‘influence teachers’

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. STF president Samantha Becotte speaks to the press after question period inside the Saskatchewan Legislative Building on March 14, 2024 in Regina.

Angela Amato, Regina Leader-Post

As Saskatchewan teachers mull over a proposed new contract, Premier Scott Moe is encouraging them to vote yes.

“It’s a fair offer for our educators,” Moe said at the legislature this week. “It gives them the security of continuing to ensure they are among the highest paid relative (to) or above the western Canadian average in our nation.”

Moe also pointed to the highest educational budget the province has seen, allowing for more teachers and support staff to be hired as well as more classrooms.

However, the numbers presented by Moe as reasons to vote yes are numbers the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) says aren’t as they seem. Teachers have said the government cherry-picked salary data resulting in a misleading billboard campaign. The STF has also said the sector has been burned by funding boosts in the past that were rolled back later on.

“The STF has been working really hard to present facts to our members and remain unbiased to allow for a democratic process to occur,” STF president Samantha Becotte said in an interview Thursday. “We want them to take an objective look and provide us with direction of how to proceed.”

Since plans for a “final offer vote” were announced on April 18, the STF has held virtual town hall meetings to provide information and answer questions.

Becotte said she expects bargaining to resume if teachers reject the offer. The potential for further job action, however, will depend on the province’s response.

“That is in the government’s hands,” she added.

At an unrelated event Thursday, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill said he remains hopeful that teachers will vote in favour of the deal, but hinted at the possibility of pursuing alternate means for students to attend classes if job action resumes.

With the province offering an eight-per-cent salary increase for teachers over the next three years, former Saskatoon public school board trustee Dan Danielson said the vote won’t come down solely to compensation.

“I think teachers are really adamant this time and there’s more to it than just their personal salaries,” Danielson said in an interview Thursday. “There’s more at stake here … It’s got to do with working conditions.”

Considering the thousands of teachers who’ve taken to the picket line in recent months — calling on government to make a long-term, binding commitment on class size and complexity funding — Danielson has a feeling the proposed agreement will be voted down.

“There’s not a lot of trust between teachers and the government,” he said.

Danielson pointed to contracts in British Columbia, Ontario and Québec, where working conditions are recognized.

In response to the province’s 2024-25 education budget, Saskatoon Public Schools says the touted $20.2-million increase from last year won’t make much of a difference in terms of supports for students.

“This increase may seem significant and it is; however, when factoring in an anticipated enrolment increase of 700 students, rising costs due to inflation and the continued increase in students requiring additional support, there is minimal room for further supports, programs and services for students,” said a statement posted to the school division’s website in April.

“In recent years, chronic underfunding has resulted in significant organizational reductions.”

“We need your help,” the post said, urging residents to reach out to their MLAs and call for “sufficient, sustainable funding.”

Teachers are poised to place their votes on May 8 and May 9.