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The Minneapolis DFL on Tuesday signed an open letter to Minneapolis Public Schools in support of educators who may go on strike as early as March 8. 

The letter, addressed to Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff, calls on the district to support the demands of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals (MFT59) "to improve the educational environment and outcomes for all of our city's students, no exceptions."

Read more: Educators in Minneapolis and St. Paul could strike as soon as March 8

This letter comes days before educators in Minneapolis, as well as in St. Paul, are scheduled to go on strike. The pending strike, which MFT59 has called a "last resort," comes after progress stalled in contract negotiations over issues that include mental health support for students, limiting class sizes, paying support staff and hourly workers a living wage, retaining teachers of color, and competitive compensation for teachers to retain them, among other things.

Superintendent Graff has said the district can't afford increases in payroll or other costs, citing lower enrollment, underfunding of public education, and increased costs. 

"With hundreds of millions of dollars in pandemic relief funds and new money from the State of Minnesota, the time is now to share power with our city's educators and use these new resources to meet their demands," the open letter says. 

The letter says "MPS needs to walk away from the status quo," adding the historic strike vote results "send a clear message that the time is now to make significant changes that our educators believe will improve outcomes for our students. And they are willing to do whatever it takes to make these changes."

According to MFT59, 98% of support staff and 97% of teachers who cast a ballot voted to authorize a strike last month (voter turnout was more than 90%).

Related [Feb. 18]: Minneapolis, St. Paul educators vote to authorize strikes

Related [Jan. 21]: Educators in Minneapolis, St. Paul could strike amid contract negotiations

"As community organizations that work to improve the lives of Minneapolitans from all parts of our city, we know that there aren't always resources to do everything we want to do," the open letter continues. "But that is no excuse for power hoarding and failing to listen to those who carry out the critical work of providing public services.

"We believe that something needs to change and support Minneapolis Public Schools educators in their demands that they believe will help create the schools our students deserve," the letter adds. 

The earliest educators in Minneapolis and St. Paul could strike is Tuesday, March 8. But a strike isn't guaranteed — contract negotiations continue between the unions and their respective districts.

If a deal isn't reached between the unions and districts by Tuesday, and educators strike, classes would be canceled for about 60,000 students in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

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Why educators are planning to strike

The demands Twin Cities educators are making mirror what many public school teachers and staff across the country have been seeking for years, which have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s not going to get any better if we do nothing,” Greta Callahan, the teacher chapter president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said during a news conference last month, according to MPR News. “The alternative is for our students to continue to not receive the things that they deserve, and for enrollment to drop. We are offering systemic change.”

Here's a closer look at some of MFT59's demands.

The union is seeking living wages and better benefits for education support professionals (ESPs) and hourly workers at Minneapolis Public Schools. Shaun Laden, MFT59's education support professionals chapter president, said during a news conference last month, they'd like to see starting pay for ESPs be bumped up to $35,000 — currently, ESPs make about $24,000.

Paying ESPs more should help fill some openings and keep others from leaving the profession, the union says.

Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody, a special education assistant with Minneapolis schools, said last month she believes union members voted so overwhelmingly to strike because educators are tired, their work isn't valued, and they know they can't continue to do the same thing and expect students to thrive when students don't have all the supports they need.

"We're not stable right now. We have a lot of open positions," Roberson-Moody said, noting students are the ones suffering the most from not having enough staff.

Educators want the district to hire more counselors and social workers to improve mental health supports for students.

It is also seeking a 20% pay increase for teachers. The union says better pay that's more comparable to what educators in nearby districts make will help with teacher retention — especially teachers of color, noting they've lost hundreds of teachers this year to other districts or jobs that pay more.

The average Minneapolis teacher earns a salary of $71,535 per year, according to the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board. The average teacher salary in St. Paul is $85,457, in Bloomington Public Schools it's $81,168 and in Minnetonka Public Schools it's $77,434.

According to MPR News, the union says based on the 2018-19 pay schedule, lifetime earnings for teachers in Minneapolis are less than those of teachers in most neighboring districts — over a 30-year teacher career, a teacher in Minneapolis will earn $386,000 less than a teacher in Minnetonka, $218,000 less than a teacher in Bloomington and $139,000 less than a teacher in St. Paul. 

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