Maze, Schmaltz outline focused priorities for upcoming bargaining process
Traditionally, much of the strategy employed by the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation when it came to provincial collective bargaining was based on past practices, while being generally mindful of the long-held relationship between the public education stakeholders.
The commencement of this latest round has made it clear that it is purposely going to be a much more public, transparent process with three very specific issues that the STF is presenting to the Government-Trustee Bargaining Committee.
“In part, we have gone this way because we know the students don’t seem to have a voice in the equation. So we are going to use our ability to leverage public support in bringing some of these very important issues to light,” offered STF President Patrick Maze.
Maze and STF Executive Director Randy Schmaltz are in agreement that the current status quo is not sustainable, going so far as to say the education system in the province is “broken.”
The aforementioned, very specific list of bargaining priorities are focused on teaching and learning conditions, which Schmaltz said ostensibly comes down to class size and composition, adding the two have to be connected. In terms of salary, the Teachers Bargaining Committee is seeking an eight percent salary increase over three years to basically cover the cost of living increase, while also pledging to formalize contracts of employment for substitute teachers.
According to Schmaltz, this change in approach has the unwavering support of the 13,500 teachers in the province.
Maze said that while traditionally salaries have been the number one concern for teachers, those concerns have been usurped by the ever-increasing factor of class size and composition. He indicated teachers have voiced their frustration with these realities while at the same time dealing with a decrease in supports due to government cutbacks that have seen per-student operating funding below the levels of 2017 when
$54 million was slashed in the budget.
“This is the first step in addressing the fact that teachers no longer feel they can do their job and they are getting burnt out,” Maze stressed.
“Teachers are not dissatisfied with their salaries so much as they feel that as things are, they can’t do their job in the classroom,” Schmaltz said. “We are hearing stories about teachers who are faced with so much on their plate that they aren’t able to do their job, and they go home at the end of the day knowing tomorrow is going to look the same.”
Echoing Maze’s address to the recent Annual Meeting of Council, Schmaltz said that he agrees the system is broken, adding that it is unfortunate how it has come to this.
Maze noted that having a properly funded public education system is a social responsibility for government. He also encourages parents and community members to voice their concerns to their respective MLAs. However, he noted that “I think there are members of the public who don’t know, and many base their perception on when they were in school. But the situation has changed considerably since then, and we have to recognize that as a society.”
Schmaltz attributes much of the stress that teachers are feeling to the loss of teacher professionalism and autonomy in recent years.
“The added administrative tasks and data collection has created such a layer of bureaucracy that it takes away from their capacity to do their work. There was a time, even 10 years ago, when you [as the teacher] were entrusted to deliver the best educational instruction you could. You reported the successes and addressed the shortcomings, but that has been diminished in the name of data collection. It is ridiculous. We have lost our way.
“Teachers are being reduced to technicians. As a result, you lose the true-value add that can be provided through the teacher-student relationship. Because teachers are not being allowed to be autonomous, we’re not taking advantage of the knowledge and expertise they can bring. We have de-humanized the classroom experience and there is no room for teachers to apply their craft.”
Maze emphasized that those who enter the teaching profession do so to make a difference in the lives of their students. But in the current climate, “they are having to put out fires all day because the supports aren’t in place. Classrooms today have become so diverse and complicated in terms of individual student needs.
“Virtually 100 percent of teachers I have talked to say they need help with English as an additional language and students with high-intensity needs. The current situation just isn’t working.”
Noting that there can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach, Maze said that in a perfect world, school boards would still have the ability to set the mill rate, which was taken away a decade ago when boards were stripped of their authority to set taxes.
Suggesting that it would be beneficial if teachers were listened to when it comes to prioritizing funding at the individual school level, Maze bemoaned that “we have over complicated this and then when you throw in austerity budgets, it is very problematic.”
Schmaltz, meanwhile, noted how there is an interesting intersection of priorities. This was discussed recently by Deputy Minister Rob Currie, who divulged to media that in the government’s plan for how education should look in the future, the recurring concerns were violence and safety in schools, inclusive education and the need for having sustainable and predictable long-term funding.
“We have been saying the same things and these concerns were not dissimilar to what we heard in the Re-Imagine Education initiative. Everybody knows and recognizes the challenges we face as a sector, but as yet there has been no commitment to resolve or address these issues,” he added.
“They [government] could commit to fixing this, but they have to recognize the diversity across the province and accept that it will be expensive,” Maze said.
“It will take a tremendous amount of political will, and it will take a deliberate effort to move the decision-making process in giving some professional autonomy back to the classroom level. We need to get back to where teachers have time to build those very important relationships with students because that’s what this is all about. Relationships aren’t easily measured, but that doesn’t mean they are not important,” Schmaltz said.