Minneapolis teachers press for better contract as district outlines bleak fiscal status

Minneapolis educators believe a new superintendent could be a new opportunity to settle their contract, but it comes at a time of dire financial challenges for Minneapolis Public Schools.

Inside the district headquarters, the school board held its first meeting Tuesday night with new superintendent Dr. Lisa Sayles-Adams

Outside, hundreds of Minneapolis educators rallied after working on an expired contract for seven months. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers said it’s had 11 bargaining sessions so far with the district.

"Right now, we have teachers just hanging by a thread in this district because they know they can go five miles in any direction and make over $10,000 more," said Greta Callahan, the teacher chapter president for the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

During a budget update at the board meeting on Monday, the district’s financial leaders painted a bleak picture of Minneapolis Public Schools' (MPS) finances.

"It's a really challenging, challenging situation that we are [in], and we cannot stress it enough to say that at this point, everything has to be on the table," said Ibrahima Diop, the senior financial officer for MPS. "As we say that everything is on the table, we mean that we will be making the necessary reductions at Central Office, but schools will be impacted, too."

Meanwhile, the district told FOX 9 in a statement it needs to cut at least $90 million in expenses because federal COVID-19 relief funding ends in September.

Union leaders confirmed an average MPS teacher's salary is about $75,000, compared to $86,000 or more in St. Paul. 

Minneapolis teachers want an 8.5% salary increase in the first year and 7.5% in the second. FOX 9 crunched the numbers, and the union’s demands could amount to upwards of $24 million, so FOX 9 asked union leaders where the money was supposed to come from.

"They're spending money differently [than other districts]. The money is there. We're not saying they're flush with cash, but we are saying they can re-prioritize our spending to invest it directly into the people who are working with students," Callahan said.

Specifically, the union said the district should make cuts to outside contracts and transportation costs, and eliminate some top administrators. MPS budget documents show the administration is only about 3% of the budget or about $19 million of a $643 million dollar budget.

Diop said employees’ salaries make up about 83% of the budget, so positions will need to be eliminated to cover the $90 million gap.

In MPS budget documents, district leaders cite three primary financial challenges: the end of COVID-19 funding, escalating costs due to inflation, and the loss of revenue due to declining enrollment. Documents show about 28,000 students are currently enrolled, but that's projected to eventually level off somewhere between 23,000 and 24,000.

District officials also said the negotiations team continues to work with the union to reach a tentative agreement. Mediation begins Feb. 29.