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Sask. education minister promises graduation ceremonies, STF confident negotiations will resume soon

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Saskatchewan’s Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill said all Grade 12 graduation ceremonies will take place this spring, regardless of any job action teachers may plan to take.

“Today I am announcing that all Grade 12 graduation events will go ahead this spring,” Cockrill said during a news conference on Thursday.  

Cockrill said the province will be working with school divisions and parents to ensure resources necessary are provided that will allow ceremonies go ahead.

The province and Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) remain away from the bargaining table and teachers’ ongoing job action has included the pause of extracurricular activities.

Last Friday, the STF announced that all extra curricular activities would be paused for the week heading into the Easter break, something Cockrill called “extremely disappointing,” adding at the time that he would have further comments in the days ahead.

Cockrill said graduation is on the minds of many students this time of year, adding there are teachers and principals along with vice principals that put a lot of time into graduation ceremonies.

“Obviously there’s parents as well that put a lot of time into ensuring that graduation events happen and we’ve had some discussions with school divisions already about how [they] can ensure that graduations go ahead as normal.”

Cockrill said many teachers he has spoken to said they want to be at graduation.

“We know our teachers have put in incredible work into getting students through school and to graduation, it means a lot to them to see the fruits of their labour finish high school and move on to whatever is next.” he said.

Saskatchewan’s teachers have been without a contract since August of 2023. The two sides began bargaining in May of 2023.

The STF declared impasses in October and February after the province refused to bring classroom size and complexity to the bargaining table, topics teachers feel are the biggest issues in schools today.

On Thursday, Cockrill said the path back to the bargaining table includes the “record increase in funding” in the $3.3 billion announced in the budget for the Ministry of Education, as well as the announcement of nine new schools, two major renovations and other capital projects.

“It’s time to come back to the table, let’s get this deal done,” Cockrill said.

Cockrill said the province feels they have fairly answered teachers’ requests in hopes for a return to bargaining, adding that the “goal posts” keep moving. 

Holding school divisions accountable

The STF is seeking to have money the province is providing school boards to address classroom needs included in a contract offer. 

The province instead signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) multi-year funding agreement with the SSBA (Saskatchewan School Boards Association) that they said guaranteed funding for the next four years.

Cockrill said the STF moved the goal posts again when they announced they didn’t want to also sign on.

“Now they are saying the school boards can’t be trusted to manage the spending of those dollars and government has offered to work with teachers and the school divisions to establish the framework for accountability,” Cockrill said.

Cockrill said the government is ready to sign a framework accountability agreement with the STF today that would ensure school boards spend the money to address teachers' biggest concerns. 

“But the teachers’ union is not ready to sign it again today unless it’s in the contract. Goal posts moved again,” he said.

"At the end of the day, whether it's in the contract or not the end result is the same, so is this about students or is this about control," Cockrill added. 

STF president Samantha Becotte said commitments have been made to work over the Easter long-weekend to try and get back to the bargaining table, adding she feels they are close in a return to negotiations. With a potential return to the table in early April a possibility. 

Becotte said that while she is optimistic that the MOU will provide a path back to the bargaining table, SSBA claims that they are able to fully support students’ needs is not entirely true.

The MOU document says the province would let teachers have a voice in how school divisions allocate funding, and it includes a reporting mechanism to show how dollars are being spent, according to the province. 

Becotte said however that history proves SSBA’s promises school divisions can address classroom size and complexities with provincial dollars is not guaranteed.

“These policies that are made by school divisions are aspirational documents, something we hope to achieve. They’re not binding documents, there is nothing in there that ensures that those are the conditions that we have in schools,” Becotte said.

Becotte added that the SSBAs record in dealing with certain classroom issues has been “hollow.”

“They have been ineffective at finding solutions to the growing challenges and working towards ensuring that a high quality education can be delivered to all students across the province,” she said.

Becotte said teachers have brought those concerns forward through collective bargaining for the past seven years, adding that they continue to be pushed aside to “committees that are ineffective at finding real solutions and tangible solutions that could improve the education sector.”

-- With files from The Canadian Press. 

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