REALITY CHECK: Deputy Minister thrown under the school bus while Deputy Premier drives it in circles

It’s not easy trying to run a Saskatchewan school division these days.

First, the Sask. Party took away their ability to control their own revenue, and then they refused to provide proper funding to take care of the little things, like making sure roofs don’t leak… or cave in. The Sask. Party is $1.5 billion behind in school repairs and 75 per cent of all school roofs will likely fail within the next five years. 

On top of all of that, the Sask. Party asked for $5 million more in cuts across the province and, even though boards found close to $20 million, the Minister refused to fully fund a contract he signed with the province’s teachers.

That pretty much brings us to last week where a letter was sent out telling School Divisions that they had to break contracts with every teacher, teaching assistant, principal, custodian – every school division worker across the province – and make an “immediate” 3.5 percent pay cut. The Minister now says, “the letter is wrong” and, though he claims “I'm the minister, I'm responsible for that, so I accept responsibility for that,” he makes it very clear that he didn’t know anything about it and entirely disagrees with the content of this broad reaching but specific directive.

In short, the letter went out from the Ministry but the Minister claims he knew nothing about it. In fact, he can’t even remember when he heard about it, “probably yesterday morning or the day before.”

Even after hearing about the letter going out and watching the letter be defended and contradicted and talked about in Question Period and in the news, the Minister responsible waited yet another day before even calling the school boards’ representative and using lawyer speak to deny his own wrong doing.

 He still has no answers whatsoever as to what the actual (read: new) plan is and when it will roll out.

We can’t make this stuff up. We wish we were because our kids’ education and our province’s future are depending on a minister who said, “I didn't read the letter, but I am responsible for that letter.”

Here’s the timeline:

April 3: School divisions are sent a letter saying they have to “immediately commence negotiations with employee groups leading to an expected reduction in total compensation costs of 3.5 per cent with no increase in the subsequent three years.”

It goes on to say the cut “cannot be achieved through further reduction in staff levels, capturing attrition or other cost reductions.” Finally, it specifies that negotiations need to be done “by the end of the current school year.”

April 7: Deadline given to divisions, who were asked to complete a “monitoring and reporting template” to update the Ministry on their progress with this cut. It is now clear that some – though the Minister initially said none – of the divisions did complete the forms.

April 10: Official Opposition Leader Trent Wotherspoon asked the Premier about the letter in Question Period and the Finance Minister took questions from reporters as well. The Finance Minister twists himself in circles into a pretzel about the letter but then tells reporters, “we’re not asking them to break contracts, just come back to the negotiating table… if that means layoffs, that’s where we’re going as far as an option.” He added, “I don’t necessarily agree with that language in the letter.”

The Education Minister did not take the media’s questions.

April 11:  School boards spoke out and, when pressed by media and the NDP, the Minister of Education began to read new talking points and said, “we’re not asking anybody to breach a contract. We're not asking for anybody to become involved in something that would be unfair labour practice.” 

Even while testifying in response to the Budget Estimates, with the Deputy Minister who wrote the letter sitting next to him, he refused to say why he took no action to clarify the situation over the last week and, when asked when he became aware of the letter, he didn’t have a definitive answer, saying, “I don't know when I first became aware of the issues with the letter. Would it possibly have been sometime yesterday, I don't know. I know the letter is wrong, we need to do a better or different job of giving the message to the divisions of what we expect of them”

 He added that he will be clarifying things for school boards soon – that’s about all the certainty school boards have received since the Sask. Party dropped their deceitful budget.