A teacher strike at St. Paul Public Schools will happen March 9 if the teachers' union and district can't agree on a new contract.
The St. Paul Federation of Educators filed an intent to strike notice Wednesday, prompting a response of disappointment from district Superintendent Joe Gothard.
“The District is committed to negotiating in good faith until a contract can be agreed upon that is fair to our educators, equitable with other union contracts and is responsible to the taxpayers of Saint Paul,” Gothard said. “We are extremely disappointed our educators continue down a path toward a strike.
Gothard said only one day of mediation has happened since SPFE held its strike vote Feb. 20, noting that district requests for additional mediation have "gone unheeded."
“I can assure you the District is doing everything possible to reach an agreement before a strike happens,” he said. “I remain confident that progress will be made during mediation to avoid disrupting all the great things happening in our schools.”
Three more mediation dates are set for Feb. 28, Mar. 5 and Mar. 6, although the district wants 24/7 mediation until a contract agreement is reached.
"We are willing to undergo this temporary hardship to make sure our student needs are met now and in the future," members of the SPFE bargaining team recently said.
What a strike means for families, students
- All classes will be cancelled for all grades (pre-K through 12th).
- All after-school activities will be cancelled.
- Varsity athletics and all MSHSL activities will continue.
- All employees expected to report to work on Day 1 of the strike.
- All early childhood and special education classes will be cancelled.
- All adult communication classes will be cancelled.
Additionally, the school calendar could be modified or extended into the summer if the strike happens.
The district will open several elementary schools will be opened daily until 3:30 p.m. for kindergarten through fifth-grade students, with breakfast and lunch provided at no cost to families.
Additionally, more than 20 locations within the district will offer free breakfast and lunch to anyone in the city under the age of 18 during the extent of a work stoppage.
Negotiations ongoing since May 2019
In a Feb. 20 vote, 82 percent of voting SPFE members approved a strike.
The vote was deemed "necessary" by the SPFE, which previously said it hopes to "reach a settlement with the district that respects our students' needs and honors our educators' voices."
Negotiations have been ongoing for nearly a year, with the SPFE recently saying the district "still isn’t taking our student-centered proposals seriously and has refused to have any real discussion around educator pay and benefits.”
Among the union's demands are salary increases and a "fully staffed mental health team in every building to help address the growing mental health crisis in our schools." It's also aiming to reduce caseloads for special education staff and increase multilingual staff.
There are more than 37,000 students enrolled in the district – the second-largest in the state – including a diverse population with more than 125 languages and dialects.
Here is Gothard's full statement:
The District is committed to negotiating in good faith until a contract can be agreed upon that is fair to our educators, equitable with other union contracts and is responsible to the taxpayers of Saint Paul.
We are extremely disappointed our educators continue down a path toward a strike. We have had only one day of mediation since the union authorized a strike vote. The District’s team was available all weekend for discussions and our requests for additional mediation sessions went unheeded. Our students, families, coworkers and community expect all of us to work together and avoid a strike, and that’s what I am committed to doing.
Our focus remains on providing the very best education for our students. I can assure you the District is doing everything possible to reach an agreement before a strike happens. I remain confident that progress will be made during mediation to avoid disrupting all the great things happening in our schools.
The reality is Saint Paul Public Schools is underfunded by more than $80 Million from the State of Minnesota, including Federal support for special education and related services. In addition, SPPS enrollment is down 2,000 students since the 2015-16 school year. Yet we are offering wage increases in each of the two years in a new contract and we are proposing to invest more than $1 million into additional student support positions, including nurses, counselors and social workers.
We currently have three mediation dates to which SPFE have agreed: Feb. 28, March 5 and March 6. I am formally requesting additional dates and times, including working through this coming weekend. I am hopeful the union will agree to the urgency of reaching an agreement so as not to disrupt student learning.
I have instructed all members of the District bargaining team to clear their calendars, including nights and weekends, and be ready at a moment's notice to continue mediation discussions toward a contract settlement.
I believe in our students, staff, families and community. I know that when we truly work together, our success, and most importantly that of our students, will not be denied.