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Grad will go ahead: Cockrill

Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill pledges grad will be protected, while STF expresses cautious optimism regarding province’s offer of accountability framework.
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill, with SSBA’s Jaimie Smith-Windsor on video, speaks on the continued labour dispute with STF.

REGINA - In the wake of continued frustrations in getting talks restarted with Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill is pledging that graduation, at least, will not be impacted.

“I am announcing all Grade 12 graduation events will go ahead this spring,” Cockrill said at a morning news conference at the Legislature, in which he was joined by video by Jaimie Smith-Windsor of Saskatchewan School Board Association.

Cockrill added that “government will be working with school divisions, and parents to provide any resources necessary to ensure each of these ceremonies go ahead regardless of what job action, the teachers union decides to take.”

His pledge comes a week after the controversial cancellation of the Hoopla basketball tournament, to be replaced by a truncated one-day tournament in Moose Jaw. Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation had also withdrawn extracurriculars throughout this past week.

Cockrill said “targeting extracurricular activities, and milestones is simply not fair to the students of this province.” Cockrill also said that in some cases, withdrawing these services on a provincial level “violates local agreements which local teacher associations have signed with school divisions.

During his remarks Cockrill once again pointed to several instances of the STF “moving the goalposts” on their demands. He pointed to such initiatives created by the government such as the Teacher Innovation Support Fund, the Specialized Support Classroom Pilot Program and annualized funding for that program, addressing class size through new capital projects, addressing classroom complexity with an increase in support for learning, and a multiyear funding agreement with SSBA guaranteeing funding for the next four years.

“Now they’re saying the school boards can’t be trusted to manage those dollars, and government has offered to work with the teachers and the school divisions to establish a framework for accountability for the classroom supports dollars. School divisions are agreeable, and government is ready to sign the accountability agreement today with the STF in order to get back to the bargaining table to discuss the issues that are important to teachers. But the teachers union is not ready to sign it today, unless it’s in the contract. Goalposts have moved again.”

Cockrill also reiterated there was a path to an agreement with teachers. “Now, it’s time to get back to the table. Let’s get a deal done.”

In speaking to reporters, Cockrill also spoke some more about the STF’s consistent demand that issues like class size and complexity be included in a collective bargaining contract.

“When it comes to whether it’s in the contract or not, is this really about students or is it about control?” said Cockrill. “At the end of the day if it’s in the contract or not the end result is the same. Is this about students or is this about control?”

Accountability framework potentially key to getting a deal done

Despite the tough talk from the Minister Thursday morning, there are indications that both sides in the ongoing labour dispute are inching closer to possibly getting back to the bargaining table. 

Cockrill confirmed that the MOU for a draft accountability framework was provided to STF this week.

In response, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation has indicated Thursday they were “cautiously optimistic” regarding the discussions with Education Minister Cockrill on the memorandum of understanding. 

STF President Samantha Becotte said in a conference call with reporters Thursday that “there have been several back and forth conversations to try and find a solution that works for all parties to this agreement. Even as early as this morning we have a commitment to work over the weekend to try and move this process forward. 

“And I’d like to add that I truly feel that this is as close as we have been within the process of getting back to the table. So we are hopeful, but also cautious with that in ensuring that it is something that is going to work for teachers, and most importantly students."