Councillors gather virtually for 2021 Councillor Conference

Sask Bulletin
November 17, 2021

On October 22, 2021, approximately 240 councillors gathered virtually for the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Councillor Conference. The gathering had originally been planned as an in-person event but given the number of COVID-19 cases and intensive care unit admissions, the Executive made the decision to move the event online. With numerous measures in place, including mandatory proof of vaccine or a negative test, the risk was low; however, the Executive felt that any unnecessary risk for members, their families and students was too great.

STF President Patrick Maze said moving the event online was the right call.

“Bobbi [Taillefer, Executive Director] and I are not pretending to be doctors. The provincial Executive is not pretending to be a medical body. We take our advice from the Saskatchewan Medical Association, Saskatchewan Health and the Saskatchewan College of Family Physicians. They are all saying vaccines are the way forward.”

Maze said much of the Federation’s advocacy continues to be related to COVID-19, including priority access to vaccines; basic measures, such as masks, as classes resumed; vaccine mandates; and for the administrative burden of COVID-19 measures to not be the responsibility of principals, vice-principals and teachers.

“We are proud to be the first teacher union in the country to ask for mandated vaccines for eligible staff and students, and we are proud to be leaders in ensuring vulnerable students and members are kept safe,” said Maze.

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation Executive Director Bobbi Taillefer (top) and STF President Patrick Maze (bottom) address councillors virtually at the 2021 Councillor Conference. Councillors received updates on upcoming changes to the pension plan, bylaws and policy, and heard from keynote speaker Wade Repta. The day ended with the traditional Open Forum, which was an opportunity for councillors to ask questions.

 

The Federation also continues to call for the reinstatement of the Education Sector Response Planning Team. It ensured regular communication between education sector partners and the Ministry of Health; common understanding; more consistent application of measures; and effective implementation of measures in a school environment. Without it, there is a lack of coordination, confusion and misinformation.

Councillors’ own experiences echoed those of other members. Crystal Hrbachek teaches at McLean School in the Prairie Valley School Division. She says better communication and clarity around COVID-19 protocols are greatly needed.

“Teachers are June-tired in October,” says Hrbachek.

“My biggest concerns are conflicting guidelines that are creating unnecessary stress. What do we do for Remembrance Day? Do we live stream? What about students who don’t have full permission to be on camera? Right now, we’re leaning towards no Christmas concert. We are trying to be consistent. Student safety remains paramount, but we need more support.”

Her comments were echoed by Ted Zurakowski, who teaches at École St. Mary High School in Prince Albert.

“COVID has brought more work and expectations from school board offices, not less, and this has resulted in many teachers reverting to self-survival mode,” says Zurakowski.

Councillors also received updates on proposed changes to bylaws and policy, including the Local Associations Working Committee Final Report. It includes 32 recommendations on changes to STF Bylaw 1 (Membership), STF Bylaw 2 (Council) and STF Bylaw 4 (Local Associations). The next step of the process is to gather feedback from local executive members, including local implementation and negotiation committees. A feedback facilitation guide was shared with councillors. Senior administrative staff and local association presidents will be using this guide to gather feedback. The report is available in the member only section on the Councillor Conference 2021 page.

Author of The Well Teacher, Wade Repta, gave the keynote address.

The afternoon included a presentation on changes to the Canada Pension Plan coming into effect on January 1, 2024, which will impact the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Retirement Plan. Changes include the introduction of a new earning limit called the Year’s Additional Maximum Pensionable Earnings. This leaves two options for the STRP: integrate with the new YAMPE, resulting in teachers paying less and receiving less pension or abandon integration and move to a flat-rate formula, resulting in a more simplified formula and more equity among members. Options will be explored at Councillor Conference in 2022. A resolution will be brought forward for decision at the Annual Meeting of Council in 2023.

In a closed-door meeting, councillors received an update on provincial collective bargaining which is set to begin in 2023.

The day ended with the traditional Open Forum and an opportunity for councillors to ask questions.

And what do teachers need moving forward and how can the STF help? Zurakowski says he would like the STF to continue advocating for teachers and for other priorities to be parked so that more focus can be put on teacher wellness.

“I want to see less focus on bylaws and governance for now,” he said. “Advocate to the school boards to focus on those actions that are vital, right now. New initiatives can wait. Let’s focus on getting through COVID together, safely.”