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Saint Paul teachers prepared to 'walk the line for our kids'

A strike could begin Tuesday unless last-minute mediation leads to a new contract.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) is warning families to prepare for the possibility of no school at St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) Tuesday due to an ongoing contract dispute with the district. 

At 6 p.m. Monday, the St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) held a gathering to update the community on contract talks, which have been ongoing since last May.  

"We're getting close to an hour where it's hard to say school is on for tomorrow. Our community needs to prepare for this one way or another," said SPFE President Nick Faber.  

"We're going to go back into mediation and it our responsibility as a bargaining team to work seriously to bring those services and supports that our students deserve into our classrooms," said Faber. 

Just after 4 p.m., SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard wrote a letter to the SPFE encouraging both sides to agree to interest arbitration, which would allow each side to submit a final offer, with a final decision being made by an arbitrator. 

“This is a way to avoid a strike and keep our students in school,” said Gothard. “I don’t believe a strike is good for anyone, especially our students. I also don’t believe a strike is inevitable, and interest arbitration is a way to ensure kids are in school while the negotiation process continues.”

That idea, however, was unanimously rejected by the SPFE executive board. 

"We could settle this tonight, avert a strike and be back with our students tomorrow," said Erica Schatzlein, vice president of the SPFE. "We know that's a possibility and we're hoping that's the outcome. If not, we will walk the line tomorrow for our kids." 

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.

What a strike would mean for families, students (per SPPS)

  • All classes will be canceled for all grades (pre-K through 12th).
  • All after-school activities will be canceled.
  • 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 canceled.
  • All adult communication classes will be canceled.

Additionally, the school calendar could be modified or extended into the summer if the strike happens.

The district will open several elementary schools 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. 

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