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Out-of-province teachers’ federation heads join STF in support of Classroom Complexity negotiations

The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation (STF) brought in past and present teachers federation presidents from across the country on Tuesday morning to explain their experience with bargaining and enshrining matters of class complexity and composition into collective

agreements.

Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) president Karen Brown, British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) president Clint Johnston and Past President of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association and Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE) Vice-President Connie Keating joined STF president Samantha Becotte by zoom call.

All three told reporters it was possible to include classroom complexity in collective bargaining, the only obstruction is the government’s willingness to negotiate.

The issue has been a sticking point of negotiations between the STF and the government-trustee bargaining committee (GTBC), which led the province to where it is today.

“I'm happy to have these three leaders here to talk about their experiences in their provincial organisations, around class size and complexity and how they've successfully negotiated these articles into their provincial agreement as well as the positive impacts that the articles have had on the experiences of students and teachers in their respective provinces,” Becotte said.

ETFO’s agreement includes the addition of specialist positions, a Support for Students Fund and initiatives to address classroom violence. Brown said the ETFO’s most recent round of bargaining, which ended in December, secured language around “increasing special education supports, recognizing the complex needs of students in our classrooms and dealing with the issue of violence in our schools.”

Through bargaining, the ETFO secured funding to train over 830 full-time “specialist teaching positions to directly support kindergarten to Grade 8 students,” Brown said.

“Classroom complexity is a new reality for all teachers, regardless of province,” she added. “When educators are required to support so many complex needs in the classroom that they become stretched beyond capacity, every student’s learning experience is impacted regardless of these needs.”

BCTF’s provincial and local agreements include class-size limits (supported by a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada), staffing ratios and class composition items such as extra prep time for students with additional needs.

“We have seen how good workload language that provides support for teachers and students can improve success for students while helping to create working conditions that retain the workforce,” he said.

The NBTF agreement includes class-size limits for all grades and combined grades, a clause guaranteeing special consideration for class sizes where classes include students with additional needs and the establishment of a Teachers’ Working Conditions Fund.

When a province is dealing with population growth, Keating said there has been a degree of predictability for families, students and teachers. In New Brunswick, she said there’s even conversation occurring about reducing the current ratio of teachers to pupils in a classroom.

“We’ve had the opportunity to have both class size and prep time implemented into our collective agreement,” Keating said. “It prevents that pendulum from swinging back and forth between government and government.”

The STF said in a release that the Government has refused to provide their bargaining committee with the authority to bargain on classroom size, complexity or violence. Including these items within the collective agreement keeps the government accountable for their commitments, which is beneficial for students, teachers and families.

Until the government provides their committee with a mandate to engage on these critical matters, Saskatchewan teachers have no choice but to continue job sanctions. Becotte said that all options are on the table for further job actions. Becotte said that they want the government to return to the table with a new mandate that allows negotiation and not a take it or leave it approach.

"We have every option on the table (and) we're considering all of the options available to us but ultimately the goal is to get back to the table where we can negotiate an agreement not just on salary and benefits, which is what government wants to reduce it to, but also around protections around our working conditions with classroom complexity articles,” Becotte said.

During the press conference, Becotte criticized a memorandum of understanding (MOU) offered by Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill that annualizes $53.1 million to, in the wording of the document, “provide assurances between the parties” and promises that the government “will commit to annualized funding to address class size and composition,” outside of bargaining.

“The recent MOU that was intended to address classroom complexity that the government. proposed outside of the bargaining process not only can be terminated at any point, but has no dispute resolution If government doesn't uphold the agreement,” Becotte said.

She explained that the state of education in the province is where it is because of underfunding.

“The challenges that we're experiencing have been created over a decade,” Becotte said. “It's unlikely to expect that they'll be solved within one year, let alone a four-year agreement, but government cannot continue to ignore these issues.”

Becotte added that parties involved like the SSBA and province must start making meaningful long-term commitments where they can be held accountable.

Saskatchewan School Boards Association (SSBA) President Jaimie Smith-Windsor, who is also a trustee for the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division, released a statement on Friday.

She said that 80 per cent of grants to school boards are allocated to staff salaries and benefits. She added that boards believe in local decision-making, as communities in Saskatchewan are very Diverse.

“We have urban, rural, and northern divisions all with unique characteristics and needs,”

Smith-Windsor added that boards believe class complexity should be dealt with at a local level and not in a provincial CBA.

She said that Building on Government’s recent funding commitment of $53.1 million, a dedicated fund for local boards will be established to address classroom complexity.

Local committees representing local teachers’ associations, trustees and senior

administration will be established to identify and address priorities.

“This opportunity, outside of bargaining, allows the parties to return to the table.”

“We look forward to continued collaboration with our partners, and further, to returning to the bargaining table to reach a fair and reasonable agreement.” she added.

Minister of Education Jeremy Cockrill supported the concept on social media over the weekend.

Becottte concluded the Zoom by saying that through Tell Them Tuesday, tens of thousands of Saskatchewan people called on the Government of Saskatchewan and local MLAs to get the government’s bargaining committee back to the table with teachers.

Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald