Classroom complexity, better support: What Sask. teachers are looking for as negotiations with province continue
REGINA -- One day after the results of a sanctions vote showed Saskatchewan teachers are ready to take job action, the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation met with Education Minister Gordon Wyant and school board trustees to continue negotiations.
The talks centred on classroom size and composition. School board trustees believe class size should be addressed at the local school board level.
Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation President Patrick Maze said Tuesday's meeting went well. Both sides have agreed to continue talks in a week and a half.
Wyant said he was pleased with the conversation between the groups on Tuesday.
"We respect the fact that teachers have voted to take sanctions. As far as the government is concerned, we're resolved in our position," he said.
The conciliator said the sides needed to find a common ground, and Wyant said he believed that happened. He said he's happy they will continue the conversation on the important issued raised by the teachers' federation.
On Monday, the federation announced 90.2 per cent of its members voted in favour of sanctions. The vote could result in job action in order to bring both sides back to the bargaining table.
In an interview on CTV Morning Live Regina ahead of the meeting, STF President Patrick Maze said the vote confirms what he's been hearing from teachers across the province.
"They've been saying their students aren't properly supported and they don't have the tools to help the students," he said.
"The results of the sanctions vote do not change the approach to bargaining – the government will continue to bargain in good faith," Deputy Minister of Education Rob Currie said in a statement after the sanctions vote was released.
Maze also said the two sides have been in negotiations for the past 10 months, but he doesn't feel the government has brought "anything different to the table." With the sanctions vote complete, there are options for what teachers do next.
"At worst it could be a walk-out, a strike by teachers," Maze said. "There's a bunch of different provisions from there, so for example, rotating strikes, just some school divisions or just some schools, or it could be work to rule or withdrawal of voluntary services."
Maze said the crux of the labour dispute is improving support for students in classrooms.
"It's not about class size, it's about the complexity of the classroom, diversity of students," he said. "It could mean lack of supports."
He added many teachers have EAL students, and they don't feel they have the support they need to instruct those students.
"When government cutbacks occur, it's mental health counselling and EAL services and supports to help students learn English in our classrooms, that often get withdrawn," Maze said.
"The government doesn’t seem to understand the importance of education and an investment in education. It's not just for our students that we see daily, it's also for the future of our province. We want the government to recognize their responsibility and start funding education for our students' success."
The two sides met with a conciliatory board in January in Saskatoon. The board recommended a one per cent salary increase for year one, and a two per cent salary increase for years two and three. Teachers also received a one per cent increase last September. The province said the board didn’t recommend including class size and composition in the collective bargaining agreement.
Teachers last took job action in Saskatchewan in 2011. They were on strike for three days, the first teacher strike in the province's history.
"The fact that it's only happened once in our history shows that we don't take these things lightly," Maze said. "In this situation, our students' learning conditions are really important to us."
Earlier in February, Premier Scott Moe said he doesn't want to see a teacher strike. He added the province remains open to bargaining.
NDP Education Critic Carla Beck said teachers and students are concerned about the possibility of the labour dispute. She added education minister needs to show the government is serious about addressing issues of class sizes and composition.
Wyant and Maze are expected to speak after the meeting on Tuesday afternoon.