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Tight timeline on education funding offer criticized by STF, Opposition NDP | CBC News

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The process leading up to an education funding agreement between the government and Saskatchewan school boards is being criticized after trustees were reportedly given 24 hours to make a decision. 

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation (STF) president Samantha Becotte said local trustees made her aware of the tight deadline and said it was concerning.

“With such little time and opportunity to pose questions and contradict that, they really didn’t have any other opportunity than to follow the direction of their provincial leadership,” she said.

The deal was touted last week by the province as providing school boards with $356.6 million dollars in annual funding for four years beginning in the 2024-25 school year. However, Becotte has pointed out that it only works out to about $45 million per year in additional funding — some of which has already been announced by the province, such as a specialized support classroom pilot program.

The deal also stipulates that the funding beyond this fiscal year is subject to appropriation, meaning it could be removed as part of the budgeting process.

Becotte has called the deal an attempt by the government to side-step the bargaining process with the STF and “avoid making real commitments.” However, she said last week that if the government brought an amended proposal to the bargaining table and put commitments in the contract, a deal could be possible.

A woman with long hair stands in a legislative building with several other people in the background.
Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Samantha Becotte says she has been told school board trustees were pushed to support the new funding agreement. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

She said she’s been told that school board trustees were persuaded to quickly approve the agreement. 

“That small time frame doesn’t provide the opportunity to really think about it critically,” she said. “We have seen time and time again that this government puts school divisions in difficult positions.”

Teachers began job action in mid-January with one-day provincewide strikes, followed by a series of rotating strikes and withdrawals of voluntary duties, after talks at the bargaining table stalled. Teachers want to negotiate class size and complexity issues, but the province refuses, saying those issues should be dealt with at the local school board level.

Moe ‘needs to swallow his pride’: Beck 

During question period on Tuesday, Official Opposition Leader Carla Beck said the government was “bullying” school boards. 

“Bullying boards into a funding deal is no way to fix our schools and certainly no way to run a province,” Beck said.

“This premier should be listening to the concerns of school boards and teachers, not pushing them around. He needs to swallow his pride and get a deal done already. It shouldn’t always be Moe’s way or the highway.”  

In an interview, Saskatchewan School Boards Association president Jaimie Smith-Windsor did not confirm the timeline given to trustees, but said “every school board was given the opportunity” to consider the deal.

“As a representative organization we can say that we have the unanimous agreement of all school boards to move forward with that,” she said. “I understand that there are other individual opinions out there — that is part of the democratic process.” 

Smith-Windsor described the funding agreement as a “good step forward” to start building capacity.

“It’s absolutely a start and we’ll give boards the ability to build back some of the classroom supports that are needed, very much needed in classrooms,” she said.

Sports games affected by job action 

While the government announced the funding agreement last week, the STF announced more job actions, including the withdrawal of extracurricular activities on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week.

As a result, semifinal games for Saskatoon’s premier basketball leagues and other events on those days were cancelled, according to the Saskatoon Secondary Schools Athletic Directorate (SSSAD). 

The SSSAD said in a news release that city championship games will still be played on Friday, as originally scheduled, with the top two seeded teams facing off.

“We acknowledge the third and fourth place teams and the success they have experienced this year,” SSSAD consultant Jud Heilman said in the news release. “We also recognize how difficult it is for these athletes to not have the opportunity to compete in a semifinal as originally planned.”

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