90 per cent of teachers don’t feel appreciated by government

Joe Couture – The StarPhoenix, March 12, 2014

Provincial Opposition education critic Trent Wotherspoon said he wasn’t surprised to learn that nine out of 10 teachers who responded to a survey said they do not think they are appreciated by government.

The voluntary survey of the province’s educators was done for the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation. Wotherspoon raised its results during question period at the Legislature Tuesday.

“It reflected the listening and relationships that I have across the province in the education sector. Teachers themselves have been in many ways kicked by the government,” said Wotherspoon, whose own background is in education.

“What is clear is that this minister, this government needs to start listening to teachers. They need to better understand the realities in classrooms,” he added.

Education Minister Don Morgan said he received the study after it was completed in December.

“It was prepared by them sort of in response to the teachers having not ratified the contract, so the study certainly shows there’s a lot of frustration that’s been there for a long time,” Morgan said.

He knows there is more work to do to improve relationships with teachers, the minister added.

“What we’d really like to do is to work through and do what we can to get a collective agreement in place, a partnership agreement and things that will help students.”

Morgan said he recently met with a group of parents who went on about how wonderful the local teachers were. But when he met with the teachers immediately afterward, they told him they aren’t appreciated by anyone.

“I think there’s a bit of a disconnect there, and maybe it’s a timing thing and people should reach out to teachers,” he said. Once the contract situation is resolved, that “certainly removes the pressure,” Morgan said.

NDP blasts plan to raise taxes

The government is looking to raise education taxes and use the money to fund bridges and overpasses — a plan NDP Leader Cam Broten says is wrong because it forces Saskatchewan families to pay more, and takes money out of education to cover this government’s infrastructure holes in other areas.

“Government revenue and government spending is higher than ever,” said Broten. “This government shouldn’t have to keep turning to Saskatchewan families to pay more.”

The premier revealed the potential tax hike while speaking to media at a Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention in Regina Monday.

Broten said that with increases planned this year for SaskTel internet, SaskEnergy, SaskPower, SGI and more, Saskatchewan families will already face a much higher cost of living.

He added that education property tax was meant to pay for education – to fix crumbling, overcrowded schools and ensure the appropriate resources are in place for students – not to cover shortfalls in the government’s infrastructure plan.

“Hiking education tax to use as a piggy bank to pay for the government’s shortcomings when it comes to overpasses and bridges is absolutely unacceptable,” said Broten.

Broten said that Saskatchewan families are doing their part for the economy and to grow the province — the government needs to do its part by responsibly managing the money so it doesn’t need to raise taxes on families or make painful cuts to valuable services when times are good.

NDP hopes government’s second look at P3 schools will lead to a better plan

After months of dismissing concerns, the government has apparently quietly informed school divisions it is taking a second look at its P3-schools plan due to growing concern that it is not the most cost-effective or prudent approach to building and operating schools.

“This government has been stubbornly plowing ahead with its P3-school agenda, and it has even criticized the Opposition for raising very legitimate concerns about this plan,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP Deputy Leader and Education Critic. “So we’re pleased to see that this government appears to finally be taking a second look at its misguided scheme for P3 schools.”

Wotherspoon noted that school divisions have expressed concerns and pushed for more information about the costs, local-supply, governance and design aspects of the new schools. School divisions have also passed motions calling on a commitment by the government to accommodate community needs in the use of schools for extra-curricular activities.

“We know there are many growing communities that urgently need new schools. We want this government to address those needs in the most cost-effective and sensible way,” Wotherspoon said. “There have been so many problems in other jurisdictions that have tried the P3-school approach. There are obviously a number of questions being raised by school boards and we hope this government will come forward with a better plan and some answers to their questions.”

In December, the government voted against the NDP’s proposed legisation, The Public-Private Partnership Transparency and Accountability Act, which would have required the full costs, including the financing, of P3 schools to be reported to the taxpayers and would prevent the government from using the P3 method for major capital projects if there are less than three bidders on the contract.

Bullying Report Light on Action, Light on Details

The NDP is disappointed that the government’s bullying report has few details and little action described.

“The long wait for this report came with hope that Saskatchewan’s young people would see action to address bullying immediately,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights. “This government took far too much time to come back with far too little to protect kids and stop bullying.”

The NDP’s expectations for the report included concrete help for establishing gay-straight alliances in schools; an immediate action plan to investigate and stop cyberbullying; and concrete measures to help stop bullying before is starts. The NDP has pointed to other provinces’ models as adaptable for Saskatchewan.

The NDP also hoped that immediate actions would be announced today, since the government coordinated its response with the release of the report. Forbes pointed to the creation of an informational website – an action that could have been done already.

“Nothing in this report appears to give Saskatchewan kids safer schools tomorrow,” said Forbes.

David and the NDP response was featured in a number of News agents. Check out the stories below:

Bullying Report Falls Short, Says Opposition, Joe Couture, The Starphoenix, Nov 15, 2013
Global Evening News, November 14 2013
Sask Education Will See Changes as Report on Bullying is Released: NDP Says Changes Won’t Come Soon Enough, NewsTalk 908 CJME, November 14, 2013

NDP demands answers on school programs in limbo

September 05, 2013 ·  NDP caucus communications

The government must clarify which education programs are now suspended or may not return – and what that means for students and teachers.

Programs including the anti-bullying initiative and the task force for First Nations and Métis education, as well as countless other programs, are all on hold while the government figures out its priorities, according to a government official’s comments in the media.

“The solution to the problems this government has created in education is certainly not to put important programs and initiatives into limbo,” said Trent Wotherspoon, NDP education critic. “It’s not acceptable to shelve initiatives that students and families count on, like anti-bullying.”

The government revealed in the media Wednesday that school building and repair projects are also on hold. Thousands of students and teachers need relief from overcrowded schools where classes are being held in gyms and hallways, or schools that are crumbling and in need of repairs from foundation repair to asbestos removal.

Wotherspoon said that fixing the problems now plaguing the education sector should be a top priority for government.

“Students, families and teachers deserve a government that can manage multiple priorities in education at once,” said Wotherspoon. “The government needs to fix the problems it created in education, and maintain valuable things like anti-bullying efforts at the same time.”

Wotherspoon cited the government’s refusal to listen as one of the biggest causes of the new problems in education, and said the government should have consulted with educational partners including students, teachers and families before bulldozing ahead with plans like instituting a battery of outdated standardized tests.

Since Saturday, Wotherspoon has heard from a number of parents and teachers who are deeply concerned about the government’s plan to halt programs – and fearful the initiatives that matter to their kids won’t be reinstated.

NDP puts education top of spring session agenda

The Sask. Party government doesn’t have a smart-growth plan to make pre-K-12 education sustainable as the province grows – and the consequences of that failure emerged during the spring session of the Legislature.

“The Sask. Party has underfunded schools and students,” said David Forbes, NDP education critic. “There is no common sense in making cuts when there are more students in today’s schools.”

Forbes and the NDP MLAs addressed head-on a number of the Sask. Party’s bad decisions in pre-K-12 education during the spring session, including:

•    The decision to pay millions to begin administering a massive out-dated regimen of standardized testing to all students. Standardized testing will mire teachers in administration and data collection instead of teaching – at a time when other provinces and jurisdictions around the world have determined that standardized testing is an outdated system with no benefit to students or schools.

•    Shortchanging the capital budget, leaving some growing communities without a school and some schools with major structural problems, asbestos, bad wiring and outdated plumbing.

•    Failing to put a cap on classroom sizes while also failing to expand the number of classrooms as the province grows. Classes are overcrowded and some classes are taking place in hallways or converted supply rooms.

•    Reducing the number of educational assistants (EAs) province-wide, rather than adding more EAs. Students aren’t getting the one-on-one attention they need, and classrooms are being disrupted while a lone teacher in the classroom has to balance the needs of every student.

•    Failing to provide supports for English as an additional language (EAL) programming, disadvantaging the growing number of immigrant families in Saskatchewan communities.

Sask. Party’s outdated views challenged

A hallmark of the spring session of the provincial legislature, which wrapped up Thursday, was the NDP’s challenges to the Sask. Party to lay out its stand on critical social issues.

“Through the course of the spring we were surprised to discover that Sask. Party MLAs resisted  common sense ideas like providing information on gay-straight alliances to students, teachers and parents who want it,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights issues.

On the national Day of Pink, NDP Leader Cam Broten raised the common sense idea of putting information on gay-straight alliances on the Ministry of Education website. Gay-straight alliances are student-initiated clubs formed to give gay students a safe space, combat gay-bashing and dispel stereotypes. The idea was immediately rejected by Premier Brad Wall, who instead turned to rhetoric about religious freedom.

Danielle Chartier, NDP critic for the status of women, and the NDP MLAs were also disappointed to discover the truth behind the Sask. Party’s report on women appointed to Crown and agency boards. Sask. Party MLA Jennifer Campeau was given a year to look into why the Sask. Party appoints disproportionately far more men to the province’s boards – but the NDP discovered that the result of her work was a simple list of 61 names of women, only a handful of whom have since been appointed.

“The Sask. Party proved they just don’t get it,” said Chartier. “A list of women, collected at an expensive lunch event or two, is not a solution to the fact that women make up less than 30 per cent of those the Sask. Party chooses to give important appointments to. The people of Saskatchewan expected a full report and an honest discussion. A piece of paper with a few names on it is insulting to the many thousands of intelligent and capable women of the province.”

The Sask. Party was also out of step with Saskatchewan people on the issue of standardized testing in schools. While other jurisdictions in Canada and world-wide move away from the old-fashioned notion of standardized testing in every grade, the Sask. Party unveiled a massive, multi-million dollar plan to test every student and release the results.

“The Sask. Party government is decades behind in its thinking on education,” said Forbes, who is also the NDP’s education critic and a teacher. “Shelling out millions for testing and data collection so that third parties can compare schools and classrooms – that’s not helping students.”