The approval of Bill No. 63 – The Education Amendment Act, 2017 in the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan on May 4, 2017, represents a significant shift in governance, administration and oversight in the PreK-12 education system. The rushed manner in which the bill was presented and debated is contrary to the historically respectful, collaborative culture of education in the province.
Of significant concern to the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation is the amendment that removes the ability for teachers to select binding arbitration as a route for settling disputes in bargaining without the agreement of both parties. This was done without any prior consultation with teachers.
Our Federation expects that any future proposals to amend education legislation and regulation in Saskatchewan, including that governing the teacher collective bargaining, includes transparent processes and appropriate timelines for meaningful consultation with the public and education stakeholders. We have reiterated this expectation in a letter to the Minister of Education on May 15, 2017.
While the final adopted amendments to The Education Act, 1995, primarily affect the authority of boards of education and school divisions, our Federation nevertheless is concerned about the manner in which the Ministry of Education will exercise its newly established powers and how that will impact teaching and learning and relationships in the sector. In summary the amendments:
- Confer extensive and wide-ranging powers on the Minister of Education with very few limits that would serve as a check and balance.
- Further limit, along with recent amendments to legislation governing the collection of education property taxes, school board and conseil scolaire autonomy.
- Increase the Minister’s power to monitor schools, school boards and conseil scolaire, and, among other things, the Minister will be able to establish performance measures and targets for the education system without the customary consultative processes.
- Introduce the prospect of punitive measures (including closures and disestablishment) for schools and school boards or conseil scolaire that do not meet preset targets or objectives or comply with directives.
- Move the duties, powers, and responsibilities of school boards and conseil scolaire, school division administrative matters and school day provisions from the Act into regulations, making them easier to amend with or without consultation in the future.
- Increase the possibility of disruptions within the education system resulting from board disestablishment and amalgamations and redrawing of school division boundaries by the Minister through regulation with or without consultation.
As related regulations are developed by the government in the coming weeks and Bill No. 63 comes into effect for the 2017-18 school year, we will continue to monitor the situation and strongly advocate for the:
- Universal right of all children and youth to publicly funded public education and equitable service levels and opportunities for all students.
- Recognition that schools are the central hub of community activity and that each school and community requires flexibility and a degree of latitude to meet local needs and priorities.
- Agency and autonomy for teachers to interpret the curriculum, design instruction and select resources that would best facilitate teaching and learning and the unique needs, background and abilities of students in their classrooms.
- Enhancement of the central role that principals provide as instructional leaders in schools, facilitating teaching and learning excellence while also administering the overall work of the school and connecting with the community.
- Participation and leadership of teachers and principals in discussions and decision making that affects them including increased voice in education sector planning processes and professionally led curriculum and professional development.