Sask. teachers say classroom size must be part of contract talks
STF president says teachers 'putting out fires all day' in overcrowded classrooms
Saskatchewan's teachers union says classroom size is one of the biggest issues facing the province's educators, yet it isn't on the table for negotiations with the Ministry of Education this week.
The government bargaining committee and the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation have been publicizing their negotiations for the first time. The provincial government proposed a two per cent salary increase in 2020 and 2021 and a $1,500 lump sum to the teachers' union.
The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation's ask is for the two per cent raise this year, and a three per cent raise for the next two years. They also want to see a contract of employment for substitute teachers — and smaller class sizes.
But Minister of Education Gordon Wyant told reporters Wednesday that class size is an issue best negotiated at the local level. The ministry won't be giving "any consideration" to class sizes during negotiations.
Federation president Patrick Maze argues that class size is a problem for the province and school divisions — and the latter don't have the funds to make an impact.
"Government changed legislation back in 2009 to take away the board's right to set a mill rate, which would give them access to some revenue at the local level to support initiatives at the local level," he said.
When funding comes from the provincial government, changes to class sizes need to be paid for by the province, he said.
The two sides don't even agree how big classes are: the Ministry of Education told media in April that the average class size in Saskatchewan is 19, but the union says classes range from 22 to 40 children.
Maze says his concern is for the quality of education and a teacher's place within the system.
He says teachers feel like they're "putting out fires all day" trying to address every need in overcrowded and often complex classrooms.
A petition started by political strategist and commentator Tammy Robert called "Include Class Size & Composition in Saskatchewan Teachers' Contract Negotiations" has garnered over 500 signatures so far. The petition says, "Teachers know better than anyone what's best for our kids' K-12 education," and says the public owes it to teachers to "show them that we appreciate what they're fighting for."
Fixed teacher-student ratios not necessarily the answer, expert says
According to a top university educator, class composition is at the heart of the issue, not necessarily its size.
"You might be walking down a hallway in a school and see one classroom that has a higher number than 19 and another one that has a lower one," said Michelle Prytula, the dean of the University of Saskatchewan's College of Education.
"It just really depends on what what that school administration and the teachers know about the student and the students' learning needs."
Setting specific teacher-to-student ratios may not be the answer, she said. The decision is complex and the issue can't be solved by an arbitrary number.
"Let's say the government made a policy or let's say the school division made a policy. If that policy was made in isolation of other supportive policies, it would likely have a really limited positive effect," said Prytula.
Despite the size debate, Prytula is feeling positive about the future of education in Saskatchewan and says everyone is responsible for its improvement.
"From the parents who communicate what their child's learning needs are, to siblings, to teachers, to the peers in the classroom and to the university and to governments."
With files from Saskatoon Morning