Maze questions desire of Ministry to change its approach to funding education
In his address at the Annual Meeting of Council, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President Patrick Maze shared with colleagues how he had logged in excess of 7,000 kilometres throughout the province in recent weeks listening to teachers.
His scathing indictment of the provincial government’s funding for public education, and its effect on teachers, was only reinforced by that experience.
Maze observed that the reality of Saskatchewan seems to have eluded those who are charged with governing the province.
“I sometimes wonder if those making the decisions in education in our province have forgotten something quite obvious–Saskatchewan is big and our population is small,” Maze said in the opening of his address.
According to Maze, that very inescapable fact also leads to the simple reality that delivering a high-quality public education system is undeniably going to be expensive.
Maze pointed out in the most recent provincial budget that education spending totalled $3.3 billion, which is second only to health care. As impressive as those numbers might sound, the stark reality is with ever-increasing enrolment, the funding is insufficient and not keeping up with emerging realities.
He cited the fact that as a result of the budget, 70 schools across our province are at 100 percent capacity, and 20 schools are at 120 percent capacity or more.
Maze also shared his exasperation in how the budget cuts had eliminated 14 programs in total. That included vital family literacyprograms at a time when they are needed more than ever, as well as cutting programs that helped support Indigenous and Métis people, and programs that supported newcomers–those who need English as an additional language assistance.
“After the budget, rural school divisions worried they couldn’t continue without staff reductions because their budgets had flatlined. You had urban school divisions expressing their deep concerns that enrolment growth is going to eat up any additional funds given to them this year. And you had, when all is said and done, per student funding that is still well below what it was in 2016,” Maze outlined.
“Teachers are being asked to do more with fewer classroom supports. Students are not getting the educational experience they deserve. All because we are not funding education in Saskatchewan in a sustainable manner that recognizes the simple realities in our province,” Maze stressed.
Bemoaning the fact that more than $54 million was taken out of the system the year previous, Maze said that has had consequences and will continue to into the future.
“Instead of investing in the future, we are robbing the future. There are more students, but fewer dollars. Supports in the classroom continue to evaporate. Teachers are burning out,” Maze said in staccato-likesentences intended to emphasize the point.
In recounting some of the stories he personally heard, Maze said teachers with many years of experience tell him this is the most difficult year of their careers.
“Those with just a few years of experience are quitting the profession altogether as important supports for new teachers have been withdrawn from divisions that have had to cut front office staff that used to assist new teachers. We’re being forced to cut corners. We’re being forced to make do,” he sighed.
Repeating a claim he has made in the past, Maze said, “education must be seen as an investment in our future. Instead, our government treats it as a line item on an expense sheet as though it is an annoying expense to stumble over in the march towards a balanced budget. This is not sustainable,” he maintained.
“We need to stop trying to cut corners and start rebuilding an education system that can deliver the highest quality of instruction to our students, wherever they live in our province. We owe it to them and to the future generations of Saskatchewan people yet
Maze also used this opportunity in speaking to those attending Council from throughout the province to decry the ambivalence that prevails in terms of dealing with the government’s much ballyhooed goal of improving on-time graduation rates for First Nations and Métis students in the province.
“We talk a lot in Saskatchewan about how we have mandatory treaty training in our schools. We recognize, talk about and apologize for the harmful effects of residential schools. We talk about and apologize for the harmful government policies that resulted in the Sixties Scoop.
“We also all recognize that it is through education, and I mean education of all students, not just First Nations and Métis, that the harmful historical treatment of First Nations and Métis people will be addressed and corrected one generation at a time,” Maze contended.
“Let’s be clear–handing a First Nations or Métis student a diploma simply to get them out of the system and off of the books to reduce government’s financial obligation to educate them is a continuation of the same harmful and racist thinking and policies that resulted in both the residential school system and the Sixties Scoop. It is failing these students at a time when an investment in them is so desperately needed.”
Maze also took time for a personal salvo at Education Minister and Deputy Premier Gord Wyant, who he suggested was paying little more than lip service to the commitment for public education that he has espoused since assuming the lead for the portfolio.
“A few months ago, the Minister of Education talked about how he wanted to hear from individual teachers about their experiences in the classroom.
“We took him at his word and launched a letter-writing campaign under some rather strict timelines. Those who participated wrote lengthy letters about the unique circumstances involving their students and the problems teachers were facing.
“What did they get in reply? A form letter.”
Maze said he found this was insulting and demeaning, intimating that it sent a message to those teachers who took the time to voice their concerns. That message was clear that we [government] don’t care.
“So ironic that those same teachers, who are required to provide individualized instruction to each of their students, get a one-size-fits-all form letter from the Minister,” Maze said.
In the view of Maze, despite the Minister’s oft-repeated claims to want to speak with individual teachers and how he is always open to listening to their concerns, the problem is nothing ever changes.
In the words of the STF President, this leaves teachers in the province with one choice as they near the breaking point.
“Members of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, we have reached just that point with education in our province. Noise, in support of public education, in support of our students, in support of our colleagues, is our only path forward,” Maze summed up.