St. Paul teachers ratify new contract; school board acts next

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St. Paul teachers have overwhelmingly approved a new two-year contract that averted a scheduled strike vote last month, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

More than 95 percent of the teacher's union members who voted on the contract Tuesday supported it, said Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, according to the Star Tribune. The school board is scheduled to vote on the 2013-15 contract March 18.

The contract includes an 8.6 percent wage-and-benefit increase over two years and new limits on class sizes, as well as other measures sought by the union to improve student performance.

The agreement will lower class sizes at 30 schools with the highest population of low-income students, although the class ratios won’t be as low as the union had wanted. That provision covers the next two-year contract as well, stretching into 2017.

Most teachers will receive a 2.25 percent cost-of-living raise in the first year and 2 percent the second year, according to the Pioneer Press. That’s in addition to automatic increases for experience or education — a 2.5 percent increase each year for the average teacher.

Teachers in St. Paul earn $68,400 a year on average; the district puts the average cost of benefits at more than $23,000, said the newspaper.

The contract also contains an agreement that the district will hire 42 full time-equivalent positions in the two years, resulting in more elementary counselors, school social workers and nurses. The district will shift existing funds to pay for those positions.

The school district estimates the cost of the entire package at $33 million.

The union and the school district spent nine months in tense negotiations, reaching the point where teachers were ready to take a strike vote. The agreement was announced on Feb. 21, the day that vote was to have occurred.

St. Paul is the state’s second-largest district with nearly 38,000 students and about 3,200 teachers.

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