Teachers withdraw from extracurricular, voluntary services following sanction vote
As you read this, teachers across the province have withdrawn from all extra-curricular and voluntary services until further notice as the long-standing impasse with the provincial government shows little sign of abating.
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation President, Patrick Maze, in making the announcement, described the situation as “extremely frustrating that government admits there is a problem but refuses to address it.”
Maze blamed the government for pushing the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee to resort to this course of action following the latest face-to-face meeting with Education Minister Gord Wyant.
The two sides had held a pair of talks after the recent sanctions vote, which saw and overwhelming result of 96.6 percent of the 13,500 teachers voting 90.2 percent in favour of proceeding with sanctions.
According to Maze, that sort of resolve among teachers has allowed the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee to have more options to pursue, including what he categorized as “being a bit more forceful in expressing our concern to government.”
Maze was quick to acknowledge that students are caught in the middle when it comes to withdrawal of extracurricular activities. However, he insisted that ultimately “we’re doing this for students, even though it isn’t easy. Students are paying the price. Teachers have made it clear that securing adequate classroom resources for students is worth fighting for.”
Under the Restriction of Services sanction, teachers will continue to provide students with the best possible learning opportunities during the school day. Teachers will report to school and provide professional services no more than 15 minutes prior to the start of the school day and not later than 15 minutes after the conclusion of the school day. Teachers will continue to provide supervision at recess, lunch and during bus services within the timeframe specified above.
“Our prime objective as teachers is to teach students during the day. Hopefully parents will understand we are doing this for their students, and I think for most parents, they accept that academics comes first.
“If parents have concerns, they should be directly contacting the Minister of Education,” Maze added.
While frustrated, Maze said the past 10 months of the provincial collective bargaining process has underlined the government’s reluctance to properly fund public education, thus making this turn of events not completely surprising.
“Since day one [of becoming the Minister of Education] Gord Wyant has talked about resetting the relationship, but it’s been all talk and no action. So, that builds the level of cynicism,” he said.
The protracted bargaining talks resulted in the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee declaring an impasse, which led to four days of conciliation that similarly failed to provide any impetus towards a solution.
The most recent false dawn proved to be the first meeting with the Teachers’ Bargaining Committee, Minister Wyant and Shawn Davidson of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, after which both sides spoke of having found some “common ground.”
However, at the most recent followup meeting nine days later, that guarded optimism was quickly quelled.
Maze indicated at the first meeting that in order to address the funding shortfalls in recent provincial budgets, the STF had proposed a total of $100 million needed to be invested over a three-year period with half that amount to be made available for September 2020. The notion was for the money to flow through the SSBA, with Davidson suggesting that perhaps $120 million to $125 million would be more appropriate.
By the second meeting, however, the government returned with an offer of $5 million in each of the next four years to be matched by an equal contribution from the Members’ Health Plan reserve. In year five, the government would contribute the full $10 million.
“We were amazed because that wouldn’t even make a difference when you’re talking about 27 school divisions in the province. That just proved to me the government had no intention of properly funding education. That was just a complete non-starter,” Maze said.
Maze acknowledged that with 13,500 teachers in vastly different situations depending on where they live, there is bound to be a myriad of questions regarding specific details about the withdrawal of services.
“They [government] see teachers and education as an easy target but I think they underestimated the resolve of teachers. We all want the very best for our students, but I think teachers have spoken and they believe this is worth it. We had all hoped to avoid this situation, but because of the way it has played out, we had to make a stand even if it means creating some disruption.”