Thompson teachers rally to protest inadequate education funding increases

On June 9 a large group of local educators and union representatives got together to air their many grievances with the Manitoba government’s approach to funding public education.

While the group first gathered at the United Steelworkers Local 6166 union hall around 10 a.m., they eventually marched over to MacLean Park later that morning, carrying signs and repeating the chant “kids not cuts.”

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According to the handful of people who spoke publicly during this rally, much of their ire with the province stems from the fact that funding increases have fallen short of the rate of inflation for two straight years.

Because certain essential resources aren’t in place anymore, teachers’ ability to teach and their students’ capacity to learn is limited, claims Carolyn Halcrow, an R.D. Parker Collegiate English teacher. “I know there’s not a teacher or staff member here, or school in this town, that has not fed hungry kids,” she said. “Teachers pick up the bills personally for supplies for those who need them and schools are asked to do more with fewer dollars.”

Halcrow went on to say that while district budgets for salaries and school supplies are shrinking, class sizes are getting bigger, which means that students with special needs run the risk of being lost in the shuffle.

“We’ve had in Thompson, and elsewhere in Manitoba, an influx of immigration,” she said. “What does that mean in terms of education? It means that schools have a population of learners whose first language is not English and these people need different sorts of resources and programming from the mainstream.”

Cathy Pellizzaro, Thompson Teachers’ Association (TTA) president, also mentioned that school programs and staff are also suffering as a result inadequate funding increases, which is why the district is eliminating department heads, all-day kindergarten and teacher-librarians at both the elementary and high school level.

While he did not attend the rally, Thompson MLA Kelly Bindle used his latest MLA Report column on June 8 to address many of the criticisms levelled against the Progressive Conservative government.

In this column, Bindle wrote that the PCs are “investing more in education than ever invested before in Manitoba” and that many of these grievances are the result of their opponents in the NDP spreading “fake news.”

“We are investing $1.323 billion in public school divisions for 2018−19 and boosting funding for the Intensive Newcomers Support Contingency from $60,000 to $100,000,” he wrote. “These investments provide strong support for our school divisions with an increase of $6.6 million, and include a 7.4 per cent increase − amounting to a hike of $2.295 million – for [the] Mystery Lake School Division.”

While Pellizzaro is aware of these increases, she said the government still isn’t taking certain variables into account.

“They may say they increased spending. They did, but [it is] very tiny,” she said in a June 8 interview with the Thompson Citizen. “It doesn’t cover inflation, it doesn’t cover rising costs. Look at the hydro in Thompson. Our hydro’s high. The schools have to cover the hydro.”

Winnipeg teachers held a similar rally on May 25, protesting the provincial government’s two-year wage freeze on public sector workers and their move to eliminate individual school districts negotiating their teachers’ salaries and moving to province-wide collective bargaining instead.

Norm Gould, Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) president, said centralized collective bargaining doesn’t work in a province like Manitoba, where each school district has unique needs.

“The priorities of a Thompson teacher are quite different than the priorities of those in Winnipeg, for example, and those teaching out in Virden as well,” he said. “There are commonalities but there’s a lot of differences in the regions and that’s how it’s addressed during the bargaining.”

However, Manitoba Minister of Education and Training Ian Wishart said this new province-wide model will work to teachers’ benefit, since it streamlines the more than 38 bargaining units that currently negotiate individually.

“We’re the last province to do anything even remotely close to that number,” he said in a May 18 interview with the Citizen. “A lot of time is put into that, doing the same thing 38 times, which is not productive and it’s a cost to government to do that. We think that it’ll be a win-win for everybody on that, both for the government and the teachers themselves.”

While many of these issues may have to be resolved either through continued lobbying or at the ballot box in 2020, Gould said Manitoba unions are currently taking the Tory government to court over their imposed two-year wage freeze, which many union leaders view as infringing their right to bargain collectively.

Gould said the judge in this case should hand down a verdict sometime in July.

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