‘We’re closer than we have ever been’ to a deal: STF president

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill answers questions from the press on the latest STF press conference on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024 in Regina.

“We did float the idea of putting the accountability framework in legislation. When you put something in the Education Act, that becomes law,” said Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill.

Alec Salloum, Regina Leader-Post

As indefinite work-to-rule job action got underway this week, the government and the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) say both sides are close to an agreement.

In fact, STF president Samantha Becotte said “I think we’re closer than we have ever been,” in an interview Tuesday morning.

This comes after Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill pitched a new path forward to get a contract done, including putting a memorandum of understanding (MOU) related to a proposed accountability framework for education funding into legislation.

“We did float the idea of putting the accountability framework in legislation,” he said after question period Monday. “When you put something in the Education Act, that becomes law.”

Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix. STF president Samantha Becotte stands for a photo at the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation office in Saskatoon. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Thursday, February 29, 2024.

But what remains key for Becotte and the STF is language that “is binding.”

“I know that the word legislation seems to be binding but, at the same time, we have seen this government change legislation kind of on a whim,” she said.

Also speaking Monday, NDP education critic Matt Love argued that more than legislation is needed.

“This minister is committing to put it in legislation,” Love said. “I’m not sure that would satisfy the level of accountability that, frankly, we need to hold this minister and this Sask. Party to (in order) to provide for the supports our classrooms need.”

“They make big promises, and then they fail to follow through on those after an election,” he added. “Teachers especially know this to be true.”

The MOU would require school divisions to have an accountability framework in place, but the specifics of that would have to be hammered out since the language is still “fairly general,” Cockrill said.

Cockrill noted he made the offer to the STF last week. And while he reiterated he won’t entertain the inclusion of pupil-to-teacher ratios in a new contract, he said there is potential to add in the framework.

“Even down the road, I’m not necessarily closed off to the idea of the accountability framework being in a potential contract,” he said. “There’s an understanding that we need to have better accountability, and more transparent accountability in the sector.”

Becotte said Cockrill’s comments to media Monday about the possibility of adding the framework into the contract was the first she’d heard of the idea and she’s waiting to hear directly from the government about it.

When it comes to job action, both Becotte and Cockrill want to see an end to it, but the minister has said graduations will go ahead regardless of potential job action at the end of the year.

“We’ve put a call out, you know, … tell us what you need,” he said. “Government wants to be there to support that.”

Becotte has said that when details regarding the framework are ironed out and language is agreed upon, there will likely be a return to the table.

“Once we agree to return to the table, sanctions would be suspended,” she said. “We don’t want to continue this. We don’t want to have it prolonged. We do want to get to an agreement as soon as possible.”