After days in which it appeared that the two sides engaged in the Minneapolis educator strike were drawing a little closer to a deal, things took an apparent turn for the worse on Wednesday.
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers 59, representing both teachers and Education Support Professionals calling for greater pay, mental health support and class size caps from Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS), said it was ready to continue mediation sessions on Wednesday.
However, as the day unfolded it emerged that the two sides had yet to meet, despite MFT 59 telling MPR News' Elizabeth Shockman that "we have told our mediator we are ready to go."
After initially saying that "we have not yet received word of what today's [mediation] schedule is," MPS later sent a statement to Bring Me The News in which it said the following:
"MPS remains committed to meet anytime, any day, for as long as we need to meet, when MFT is working within the financial parameters set forth by our last, best and final offers."
The suggestion here, then, is that MPS is refusing to even meet for mediation unless MFT 59 agrees to stick to the conditions the district has set forth.
Bring Me The News reached out to MPS for further clarification on this, but has not yet received a response. We have also reached out to MFT 59 for comment.
What are MPS' 'best and final offers'?
The "last, best and final offers" were eventually proposed by MPS as the strike that has kept students, teachers and staff out of classrooms – and forced parents to find alternative care solutions – entered its third week.
This "last, best and final offer" includes class size caps in contracts; a starting salary of $50,000 for teachers, with scheduled wage increases and $3,000 in bonuses over the next two years; "robust protections" for teachers of color and "additional strategies to recruit and retain teachers of color"; and a full-time social worker in each school.
The union's latest proposal (read it here) notes the union and district have agreed on language that would require a full-time social worker in each school, class size caps and protections for teachers of color. Among the areas where the two sides differ are bonuses and scheduled wage increases.
The union says it reduced its salary rise offer in exchange for enhanced $10,000 bonuses for teachers over the next two years – which it says can be covered by one-time federal COVID funding.
MPS says that its salary rise offers to teachers is higher than was agreed to by St. Paul Public Schools with its teachers, but St. Paul teachers are paid on average significantly more than Minneapolis teachers in the first place.
MPS said its "last, best and final offer" for ESPs would increase starting wages for 85% of ESPs to $23 an hour or more, an increase in pay for the lowest-paid ESPs from $15.45 an hour to $18 an hour, and $6,000 in bonuses over the next two years.
The MFT59's ESP chapter offered its own settlement proposal Sunday night, which included $35,000 starting salary for most ESPs, $10,000 in bonuses over the next two years, and five additional hours for ESPs working 30-plus hours so they can get their work done and be paid for it.
The Sahan Journal's Becky Zosia Dernbach also reported on Tuesday evening that the biggest gulf in offers was actually on mental health support – with MFT 59 seeking a $70 million investment in this – but in a Wednesday update, Dernbach noted the union had lowered its proposal and agreed it could be paid using short-term funding.