Teachers, parents, and students gathered in front of cabinet minister Paul Merriman’s office in Saskatoon on Saturday to ask the Saskatchewan government to provide more money for publicly funded schools.
Samantha Becotte, president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, says that after nearly a decade of underfunding, the provincial government has failed to acknowledge a crisis in Saskatchewan schools.
“They say the April budget is the largest budget we have ever seen. We know that the increase to the budget does not match the enrollment growth, let alone the inflation in this province,” Becotte said.
“We know kids have a right to high-quality public education. They don’t just deserve it — they have a right.”
The rally at Merriman’s office comes as the Saskatchewan government is currently in negotiations with the province’s teachers. More than 90 per cent recently voted in favour of job sanctions, though the STF president says nothing specific has been planned so far. For the government’s part, the provincial education minister has said the province is prepared to get a deal done.
Becotte said some teachers have more than 30 students enrolled in elementary classes in Saskatoon. “It ridiculous for the government to say that class sizes aren’t growing. We have record enrollment growth in districts across our province and we have fewer teachers to support them.”
Twelve Regina public schools are operating at over 100 per cent capacity.
Last year, 25,225 students were enrolled as of Sept. 30. This year, 26,089 students have enrolled so far, an increase of about 3.4 per cent.
Nathan Bromm, vice-president of the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, said that funding is available and that it’s just a question of the government’s priorities.
“They have the funding. They have a billion-dollar surplus,” Bromm said. “If they want to make the political choice and have the political will to make the changes, they can do that. They can fund our classrooms, they can do better.”
Parents Rachel Engler-Stringer and Peter Garden, whose children have dyslexia, say their kids have struggled to get the support they need to succeed, and are calling on the province to provide teachers with the proper funding and resources.
Engler-Stringer said that in terms of ensuring the future of a child, funding public education is one of the most important investments one can ever make.
“We need to make sure our kids get the education that they deserve. Right now, they’re not getting that,” Engler-Stringer said. “Last year, our youngest was in a classroom with 31 kids. She was in Grade 7. Just managing behaviour was almost impossible, let alone ensuring everyone got what they needed.”
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“It’s really heartening to know that there are just so many people who care about this issue. We know that teachers care. We know they are doing their best with the resources that they have,” Garden added.
“We have no doubt that teachers have our best interests at heart. They just need more resources to do their jobs right. This government is just not providing those, and they haven’t for a very long time. So, there’s a lot of catching up to do.”
Jeremy Cockrill, Saskatchewan’s Minister of Education, said on Oct. 20 that the government is ready to listen to teachers and is prepared to get a deal done.
“We’ll bargain any day of the week,” Cockrill said. “Every week, we are ready to bargain and we want to have a fair deal that provides certainty and predictability for families, for students and for teachers in this province.”
Bromm said that if the minister is serious about bargaining, then the government should respond to the federation’s application for conciliation. “If he wants to say they’re ready to negotiate, then come to the conciliation table.”
The Saskatoon rally was the third of four that have been held throughout the province this fall. One more public education rally is planned for Nov. 4 in North Battleford, which just so happens to be Cockrill’s riding.
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