St. Paul schools chief 'surprised' by teachers' strike threat over school violence

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The head of the St. Paul school district said she was "very surprised" when the St. Paul teacher's union announced Tuesday night its threat to strike over concerns about an uptick in violence in schools.

Superintendent Valeria Silva also said at a Wednesday afternoon news conference the union's proposed solutions are too expensive, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

The union and school district are in the midst of negotiations on a new two-year contract and school safety is one of the key topics of the talks.

Silva said she thought the negotiations were progressing well until the union's announcement Tuesday night that it has filed a petition for state mediation, according to KARE 11. The petition is a step required by state law to trigger the union’s right to strike.

The union's announcement came just a few hours after two St. Paul Central High School students were charged with assaulting a teacher and an assistant principal who were trying to break up a fight in the school cafeteria last Friday. The teacher lost consciousness when one of the students put him in a stranglehold and threw him onto the floor.

What teachers are proposing

The union has asked administration to hire more staff, including social workers, counselors, nurses and school psychologists, to address the needs of students who come from challenging circumstances.

The union also wants dedicated staff time for School Climate Improvement Teams, made up of parents and teachers at each school, to come up with solutions for unruly behavior at the building level.

Silva's proposal is to create a committee of teachers and administrators to develop plans for the entire district, according to the Pioneer Press.

She added that the teachers union requests – along with proposed salary increases – would cost millions of dollars that the district doesn't have, according to MPR News.

Silva did say she is committed to finding "common ground" with the teachers union on the safety question, MPR News notes.

Uptick in violence

A number of violent incidents have taken place in St. Paul schools this year.

A student at Harding High School was arrested in late October for having a loaded gun in his backpack at school. During that same week, more than half a dozen fights broke out in several schools, including some brawls that involved dozens of students.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said last week's incident at Central High was the 27th case his office has handled this year relating to students attacking school officials – almost double the number from last year.

Choi and Silva announced plans Tuesday to form a task force to address the surge in school violence.

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