Class composition at the heart of what needs to be addressed in stalled bargaining process: STF

Sask Bulletin
December 11, 2019

Patrick Maze

Patrick Maze

After seven months and a host of face-to-face meetings in recent months to try to arrive at a provincial collective bargaining agreement for the province’s teachers, the rather inauspicious result has been that the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation declared an impasse as a precursor to applying for conciliation.

Citing general lack of movement from the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee, it would be a reasonable assumption there isn’t much the two sides can agree on. One of the main sticking points has been Education Minister Gord Wyant’s insistence that the key issues of class size and composition can’t be part of any potential agreement. Yet ironically, the two are in general agreement that if push came to shove, composition might be more of an issue than actual class size.

It is an oft-repeated viewpoint shared by Wyant and he contends the two factors are closely aligned. Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Patrick Maze does not disagree with that assertion.

Maze suggested the publicly floated notion by NDP leader Ryan Meili that his party would establish a 24-student cap on classes from kindergarten to Grade 3 is not necessarily the answer.

“We can’t have hard caps across the province–that just wouldn’t work. It’s an important part of the conversation, but it has to start with composition and then you can look at size. It’s complicated, and that’s because you are dealing with people,” Maze offered.

If there is some consensus on the prioritization of composition, Maze is vehement the language has to be part of any collective agreement, while stressing that the time to deal with this issue once and for all is now.

Maze added that there have been examples in the past when verbal agreements didn’t necessarily live up to original expectations, thus underscoring the importance of having it as part of the contract.

 “It’s not just from urban teachers, but I have heard from teachers across the province that this can’t be ignored any longer. We have to make sure the funding is in place to set up students for success, and that means we have to figure out where the hot spots are,” he added.

Maze contends the reason the provincial government is reluctant to agree to the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee’s set of proposals is that there is no denying education is a very expensive budget item.

“Ideologically, I think this government is against committing large costs to public services in general and they don’t want to give up certain management rights.”

Maze alluded to the government’s establishment of the Provincial Committee on Class Size and Composition as an example of this reluctance to have genuine teacher input into what the Committee’s recommendations will be, which the STF has opted not to participate in because of what they see as a lack of ability to genuinely influence the outcome.

He scoffs at the inclusion of one parent in the composition of the Committee.

“How can one parent possibly have a real handle on the diversity of what teachers are dealing with in their classrooms? Whether it’s a student with high levels of autism or learning disabilities, or another student who is maybe learning to speak English for the first time, there are so many different aspects to consider. This Committee is set up to fail or to arrive at predetermined outcomes.”

Maze underscored that school boards are not to blame for the current funding shortfall being experienced by the PreK-12 education system, noting that “the tap has been turned off above the board level and they are often left with very unpalatable decisions in terms of having to make cuts.”

According to Maze, he is bemused by Premier Scott Moe’s ambitious growth plan for the province, not the least of which is focused on a significant population growth.

He alluded specifically to the fact that many of these new citizens will in all likelihood come from overseas locales, thereby putting an extra strain on a system which he says already has teachers taxed to the limit in terms of workload intensification.

“When I look at the current situation I think they [government] are trying to drive a wedge between our members. But as the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee and the STF Executive, we are committed to reaching a settlement for our teachers to consider, and one that is fair and reasonable. Obviously, we are hopeful conciliation will help us in that regard and we will go into it with our best efforts to reach a fair conclusion. But if it doesn’t, we will be prepared for taking the next step. We have to convince government that the current situation is not sustainable.”

Maze indicated that the lack of progress thus far has been predictable if not frustrating.

“They [government] are not going to be giving anything away for free. As a profession, we have to show how important the education system is for the future of this province. You can either pay now or pay later,” he said, noting the societal shortcomings that can result from an under-resourced public education sector.