If teachers in the province feel like they have been caught in the middle of a maelstrom lately, it’s a feeling shared by the Minister of Education Don Morgan.
Although arguably much of the myriad of news dispatches geared towards the PreK-12 education sector have been of his own doing, Morgan took a few minutes for contemplation after the recent conclusion of the spring legislature to offer his overall analysis of where things are at.
“It’s been a long, challenging session and I’m hoping for a period of calm and stability,” Morgan acknowledged. He also knows there is still operational work that needs to forge ahead as a result of the spate of recent announcements, not the least of which was the passing of Bill No. 63 giving greater powers to the Ministry.
“I don’t want to create any more turmoil or uncertainty with the [education] sector. I hope over the next while we can take a breather and hopefully acknowledge some of the progress we’ve made, and people can take pride in that we have overall excellence in the sector,” Morgan said.
Although doubtlessly teachers have felt a great deal of angst in following the latest developments, the immediate effects have been felt more by school boards as they grapple with trying to make sense of the new realities they face. While spared from amalgamation (for now at least), there is still considerable uncertainty for the Saskatchewan School Boards Association and those at the respective division levels.
Certainly since the 2016 budget, Morgan has made it abundantly clear that school boards are going to have to realize significant cost savings in these challenging economic times for the province.
As Morgan reiterated in this interview, “our goal from the outset has been to take savings out of the boardroom and put them into the classroom.” He praised several boards for having found the sort of efficiencies he has been advocating for all along when it comes to common procurement and working together to lessen costs in areas such as transportation and technology, for example.
“We continue to feel strongly that divisions need to find savings to fulfil our commitment to students and teachers and we have stuck to that. I’ve been encouraged by some of the things we’re seeing and I expect there will continue to be good uptake,” he said, adding that he doesn’t view the role of divisions as patsies with the power shift that has occurred in recent times.
“We have said to divisions that we [government] will be staying back and let them get on with it. It was pretty clear in the consultations across the province that people viewed it as important to maintain the status quo in terms of having locally elected trustees and we accept that without reservations.”
“I think we will look at boundaries in some cases, but overall, boards have rolled up their sleeves and some of these things are happening faster than I might have expected so I’m pleased with that.”
One recent development is that former Minister of Education Ken Krawetz has been tasked with talking to the various education partners, including the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. Discussions would include looking into local bargaining frameworks with the ultimate goal of having greater uniformity across the province, and according to Morgan, to potentially have this be a part of any future provincial collective bargaining agreements.
Morgan disagreed with the assertion that teachers and the STF have not been sufficiently consulted in the many initiatives that have come from the Ministry in recent months. He referred specifically to the comprehensive STF submission to the Educational Governance Review Advisory Panel. Morgan said he “really liked” the submission, adding that it identified several long-term areas such as curriculum development.
Ironically one of the topics that has seemingly fallen off the radar in recent times has been that of teacher time. Morgan said he knows it’s at or near the top of STF President Patrick Maze’s list, and insisted that the lack of a conclusive settlement is not due to a lack of willingness, but more a matter of getting down to the nuts and bolts. “It’s not off our radar or forgotten, and nor should it be,” the Minister offered.