By STEVE KARNOWSKI – Associated Press
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Teachers in the Minneapolis school district were scheduled to step down Tuesday in a dispute over wages, class sizes and mental health support for students, at least temporarily pausing classes for about 29,000 students in one of Minnesota’s largest school districts.
Union members said they could not agree on wages, particularly a “living wage” for professionals to support education, as well as caps on class sizes and more mental health services for students.
“We are striking … for the safe and stable schools our students deserve,” said Greta Cunningham, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.
The school district called the news “disappointing” but vowed to “remain continuously at the arbitration table to reduce the duration and impact of this strike.”
Teachers in the neighboring St. Paul school district, which has about 34,000 students, announced a tentative agreement late Monday night to avert a strike that was also planned for Tuesday.
People also read…
Union officials in both cities said the problems are broadly the same. The St. Paul teachers’ union said their tentative agreement – subject to member approval – includes maintaining class size caps, increased mental health support and pay rises.
“This agreement could have been reached much sooner. It shouldn’t have required a strike vote, but we did it,” local union chief Leah VanDassor said in an announcement of the deal.
St. Paul Superintendent Joe Gothard said the agreements were fair while operating within the district’s budget constraints.
State mediators attempted to facilitate negotiations between administrators and union leaders in both counties. Districts had announced that a strike would see virtually all classes canceled, although some services and school sports would continue.
National union leaders say teachers and support workers across the country are experiencing the same types of overwork and burnout challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but no other major districts are close to going on strike. School district officials have said they are already facing budget constraints due to enrollment losses due to the pandemic and cannot spend money they don’t have.
The possibility of a strike weighed on parents already burdened by the pandemic disruption.
Erin Zielinski’s daughter Sybil is a first grader at Armatage Community School in southwest Minneapolis. She and her husband support the teachers, although she worries whether the union’s demands are sustainable.
Zielinski said her family is lucky. She and her husband can count on their parents’ support during a strike and although he has had to return to the office, she still has some flexibility to work from home. Your plan if the teachers go on strike? “Survive,” she said, and laughed.
“You kind of become immune to it, between distance learning and home schooling, it’s unfortunately a way of life now,” she said. “My husband and I will put it together.”
Earlier Monday, the Minneapolis Borough and its teachers appeared to have settled for a strike. The union said in a statement earlier in the day that the district “does not even pretend to avoid a strike”.
St. Paul’s Union was more neutral in a statement saying it was considering a new offer that covered issues in several of its proposals. Outlining the proposals in a separate statement Sunday night, Gothard said the district offered to add one language to the contract to keep average class sizes at current levels, hire four additional school psychologists, and provide a one-time cash payment of $2,000 for each Union employees contribute to federal stimulus funds and raise wages for the lowest-paid educational assistants.
“This comprehensive settlement offering addresses the union’s priorities, does not contribute to the projected $42 million budget deficit next year and, most importantly, keeps our students, teachers and staff in the classroom,” Gothard wrote.
Minneapolis has approximately 29,000 students and 3,265 teachers while St. Paul has approximately 34,000 students and 3,250 educators. The average annual salary for St. Paul teachers is more than $85,000, while in Minneapolis it is more than $71,000. However, districts also employ hundreds of low-paid casual workers who often say they do not earn a living wage, and these workers have been the focus of talks.
Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed from Minneapolis.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.