NDP Education Critic Carla Beck, joined by substitute Educational Assistant Penny Van Buekenhout, is calling on the Saskatchewan government to act quickly to prioritize substitute recruitment and retention by providing funding for cohorting, contracts and sick pay. Education Minister Gord Wyant indicated last week that his government rejected division requests for funding for substitutes as not a priority, just like funding for supplies like “yoga mats and pencil cases.” 

“By sticking us with the worst school reopening plan in Canada, this government has left substitute teachers and substitute EAs vulnerable and exposed, with no guaranteed sick leave and no protection as they prepare to interact with potentially hundreds of kids in a week,” said Beck. “To hear the Minister say last week that funding for substitutes is as unimportant to him as yoga mats and pencil cases shows he’s learned absolutely nothing. The federal government has made funding available; now the province needs to put it to use ensuring we have enough substitute teachers in place at each school, and that those educators have access to sick leave.”

Penny Van Buekenhout, who works as a substitute EA, says she’s been booked every morning since school reopened, but has so far turned down afternoon requests at other schools for the sake of the kids’ safety, even though this means she’s turning down needed income. 

“Before COVID, we were already stretched — I was working every day I was available,” said Van Buekenhout. “Now I’m trying to balance paying the bills with not putting kids at risk by working in multiple schools on the same day. Without job security or paid sick leave, I’m worried we’re going to have real trouble recruiting and retaining enough substitutes to meet the need.”