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Talk of accountability framework raises hopes in STF dispute

Minister Jeremy Cockrill extends olive branch to STF with ‘accountability framework.’
Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill speaks to reporters following Question Period March 25.

REGINA - Could talks resume sometime soon in the labour dispute between the province and Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation?

That seems to be the hope raised after the province’s Education Minister Jeremy Cockrill issued a statement Friday, one which seemed to extend an olive branch to the teachers on certain points. 

In that statement Cockrill said that “work has been underway to find a path forward with the teachers’ union,” and that the government was “prepared to create an accountability framework connected to the historic multiyear funding agreement” announced in the provincial budget.

Cockrill also stated he would “have more to say next week on how we are working to ensure that students get the opportunities they so deserve, including graduation.”

In speaking to reporters on Monday, Cockrill did not have many new details to announce, at least not yet. But he did confirm one new detail: that he and STF President Samantha Becotte had spoken last Friday after his statement was released. 

“I had a conversation with Ms. Becotte on Friday. Just a short conversation. Again, those discussions continue,” said Cockrill.

Regarding his mention of an “accountability framework,” Cockrill said that “there’s discussions ongoing regarding that. I mean, let’s think back to the SSBA’s news release in February, and an accountability framework was mentioned in that news release. This is something that the STF has also raised in terms of having a mechanism or framework to confirm accountability in terms of the way school divisions spend dollars.”

Cockrill said there were “ongoing discussions around that in terms of the details of what exactly that looks like.” But he added: “I don’t have answers on that today.”

The issues of classroom complexity, and of holding school divisions accountable for the funds it receives, have been seen as the major stumbling block to getting a deal done with STF, who have demanded the classroom complexity issue be addressed in the collective bargaining agreement. So far, the province has held firm saying it would not put it in the collective agreement.

This week marks yet another week of labour disruptions at school divisions across the province. There is a province-wide withdrawal of extracurricular activities by STF members all week through Thursday, with Friday being the Good Friday holiday. This follows on the withdrawal of extracurricular activities Thursday and Friday that led to the cancellation of the Hoopla provincial basketball tournament in Moose Jaw, although a one-day provincial tournament did go ahead to decide championships on Saturday.

No new talks have been scheduled this week.

Opposition Critic Matt Love spoke to reporters at the Legislature Monday and did not express much optimism that Cockrill could get a deal done, despite the most recent statement from the minister.

“It points to a real lack of a plan from this minister to solve the issues on the table. Teachers have offered several paths through that. He appears to not really have any answers on to what those talks really are, other than those words ‘accountability framework.’ There’s no details going forward. So obviously with this government, it’s hard to trust what they say. 

“And I think teachers who have been fleeced in the past have every reason to want to see commitments signed into contract. We know that in 2012, 2017, 2021, in the years following an election, education funding was cut down to the bone. And teachers are left to pick up the pieces, to show up day in and day out to serve the students in the classroom with increasing complexity, increasing numbers of students, increasing demands on their time, and teachers have described it as a situation of triage in the classroom. That said, teachers have been fleeced by this government before and they have every reason to not trust what this government says until it’s signed in the contract.”

As for the prospect of graduation events possibly being impacted by this labour dispute, “no one wants to see those types of events impacted,” said Love. “I think on both ends the responsibility lies with this minister to get a deal done or get out of the way so a deal can be finalized.”