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Saskatchewan’s education minister is being accused of trying to influence a teachers vote after saying he’s not ruling out extending the school year should educators reject his offer and take job action.

Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation president Samantha Becotte says Jeremy Cockrill’s remarks are disappointing as members decide whether they want to accept the deal.

Teachers are voting this week on a proposed contract with the government that would see wage increases over the next three years and a commitment to honour promises of more funding for classrooms.

“I do think it’s an attempt to influence the decision by teachers this week, and potentially influence the public if sanctions were to continue,” Becotte said in an interview.

“Whatever is decided with the school year, that is their choice and the choice of school boards, and they’ll be the ones that make that decision regardless of what teachers do.”

Cockrill said Wednesday that job action in recent months has resulted in less instructional time and students deserve quality education.

He said nobody wants to see a longer school year, but he has ministerial powers to make adjustments to the calendar if needed.

“It’s our responsibility to ensure Saskatchewan students receive the instructional hours required under legislation,” he said.

“If there is a no vote and if there is further job sanctions, then obviously we would want to work with our school division partners to understand how we can ensure that children receive a year’s worth full of education.”

Teachers have gone on rotating strikes and refused to do volunteer activities, including lunchroom supervision and extracurricular work, in pushing for more supports for students.

Job action in March caused a provincial basketball tournament known as Hoopla to be cancelled.

Cockrill said some school divisions have seen less classroom time than others. He did not say how many hours have been lost.

“We’ll work with school divisions to understand what has been missed and how we’ll account for that,” he said.

Becotte said two divisions saw five days of instruction time lost, while others saw less than that.

She said some divisions chose to end school days earlier because teachers weren’t providing lunchroom supervision.

“Those were school division decisions and they’re the ones that should be doing their due diligence in making sure they’re making the right decisions around adjusting,” Becotte said.

“Yes, we have had sanctions that have affected instructional time, but we’ve also had school years where there have been more snow days.”

The federation has been neutral on whether members should accept the deal.

Voting is to end Thursday evening and results are expected to be shared soon after, Becotte said.

Should members vote no, she said the federation will request another round of negotiations with the province.

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