Union leaders and district officials in Minneapolis continue negotiations over the ongoing educator strike, with the district saying Wednesday progress is being made.
Teachers and education support professionals (ESPs) who are members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT 59) union have been on strike since March 8, seeking "systemic change" by demanding better pay, class size limits, supporting and retaining educators of color, and mental health support for students, among other demands.
Both sides continue to meet in mediation, and on Wednesday district leaders provided a brief update on negotiations, with Minneapolis Public School (MPS) Board Chair Kim Ellison saying they made "good movement" Wednesday morning and she does feel progress is being made.
Ellison said during negotiations on Wednesday they focused on a lot of contract language and they haven't "gotten down to the finances yet" but the conversation is going back and forth and people are agreeing, adding "the room felt good" and she feels both sides felt good about the movement they made.
A few times during the strike, the union has said the district isn't coming to the table and is intentionally not offering counterproposal so it could "demonize" educators in "their fight for the common good." Bring Me The News has reached out to MFT 59 for comment on Wednesday's negotiations.
Related [March 10]: Minneapolis educators accuse school district of 'demonizing' teachers
Superintendent Ed Graff said the district countered on a few proposals including labor management for ESPs, benefits language for ESPs, and caseloads for teachers. Graff called them "significant movements."
Leading up to the strike, the district pushed back against the unions' demands, saying it couldn't afford increases in payroll or other costs, citing lower enrollment, underfunding of public education and increased costs.
"We have reached our financial limits but we're looking at creative ways to meet the needs of our workers, specifically the contract we have proposed would see a 7.4% impact on wages for teachers and a 9% wage impact for ESPs," Ellison said Wednesday.
This 7.4% salary increase for teachers over 2 years and 9% for ESPs is far short of what MFT 59 is seeking, however, and less than the current rate of inflation in this year alone.
A priority for MFT 59 during contract negotiations is paying ESPs a livable wage, with the union seeking pay that starts at $35,000. Currently, ESPs make about $24,000. The union is also seeking better pay for teachers that's more comparable to educators in nearby districts (average teacher pay in Minneapolis is around $71,000, compared to $85,000 in St. Paul."
The union argues better pay will help retain teachers, especially teachers of color, noting the district has lost hundreds of teachers to higher-paying employers this year.
Eric Moore, MPS senior accountability, research and equity officer, said the district's proposals have also included efforts to hire and retain teachers of color.
During Wednesday's update, district leaders stressed they want to get students back in school as soon as possible. Ellison said there have been 21 mediation sessions between MPS and MFT 59, and they're asking mediators to schedule more and longer meetings to get a deal done. She also said since progress is being made on negotiations, the district has asked educators if they'd return to classrooms while the remaining details are ironed out.
Meanwhile, Aimee Fearing, MPS' senior academic officer, said Tuesday marked six days of classes being canceled, which put MPS below the required 165 minimum instructional days as required by law. And schools are — or will be soon — below the required number of instructional hours as well.
Fearing said they're working with the Minnesota Department of Education to figure out how schools will make up the lost instructional time. The changes will be part of a revised calendar that will be determined and approved once the strike is over.