STF reacts to education budget

Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation president Patrick Maze speaks in Prince Albert on Nov. 1, 2019. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

While he hoped for some more news on funding for class sizes and composition concerns on Wednesday, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Patrick Maze acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has put certain issues on the backburner for the time being.

“It’s a little disappointing that there wasn’t some direct funding for classroom complexities, but given the current uncertainties that we are all facing, holding the line at this point is responsible,”

“They are addressing some of the enrollment increases and some of the inflationary pressures that school division are facing, which is a positive.”

During Wednesday’s budget announcement, it was revealed that the Ministry of Education’s 2020-21 expense is $2.57 billion,  which is an increase of $86 million or 3.5 per cent from 2019-20. 

Saskatchewan’s 27 school divisions will receive $1.94 billion in operating funding for the 2020-21 school year, which $42 million increase over last year to address enrolment growth, inflation and collective bargaining.

“Some of our school divisions alone have $250 million budgets,” Maze said “A $35-40 million increase for all those divisions probably isn’t enough for enrollment increases and inflation, but it’s a start in the right direction.”

“With ongoing discussions on the class size and composition, it’s not a challenge that happened overnight and nor do I think it will be an overnight fix,” finance minister Donna Harpauer said on Wednesday. “The minister of education (Gord Wyant) has struck a committee to take a look at what solutions may be. We made an offer to the teachers’ federation of starting a fund of $5 million to address some issues, but it won’t entirely be money. It will be a long solution and no decisions have been made at this time.”

Among the projects mentioned on Wednesday were a new consolidated elementary and high school in Carrot River, with the initial planning funds set at $1.3 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in the ongoing labour dispute between the STF and the province to be put on the backburner, but both sides acknowledged the situation on Wednesday.

“It’s definitely taking a back seat so that we can make sure that our students, teachers and support are all safe from the virus,” Maze said. “Hopefully once things stabilize, we will be able to resume bargaining at some point. We know the government has earmarked some funding for a collective bargaining agreement and we would like to get back to the table at soon as possible, but we recognize that’s not really on the top of the mind right now due to the pandemic.” “There is a wage increase in the budget for the teachers,” Wyant added. “The collective bargaining agreement is fully costed in the estimates we’ve put forward. We will wait for the recommendations of the class size and the composition