St. Paul Public Schools teachers strike looms

St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard speaks at a news conference about the current state of the district's budget and contract negotiations. 

St. Paul Public School's largest teacher member union has authorized a strike after a stall in negotiations, saying they’re fighting for, "the future of education in St. Paul."

The St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) authorized Thursday night to hold a vote on a strike on Feb. 17 after a petition from its membership. In a statement the SPFE Executive Board said it's fighting for, "lower class sizes, fully staffed mental health teams in every building, additional educators supporting students with disabilities, and a living wage for educational assistants." 

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is also set to vote on a strike for Feb. 14, setting the stage for strikes in two of the state's largest school districts at the same time.

St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) leadership held a news conference Friday to discuss the state of the district’s projected budget, and ongoing negotiations with the SPFE.

"Our community has endured a difficult two years. Our educators and school staff have been there for our students and families every day since the pandemic began in March 2020. Educators are tired, and I know many parents of school-age children feel this way, too," superintendent Joe Gothard in a statement. 

According to the district, since 2015 enrollment at SPPS has decreased by more than 11 percent, resulting in a loss of $28 million per year, and a projected operating budget a shortfall of $42.8 million. The SPFE represents 4,250 of 7,000 total employees throughout the district. 

St. Paul’s Board of Education previously authorized a 1.5 percent salary increase each year of a new two-year contract for each of the total 27 bargaining groups that represent the school district as a whole. The district says several groups have already settled new contracts.

However, according to a statement from SPFE, "the district is only offering a 1.5 percent wage increase at a time when surrounding districts are settling contracts with significantly higher increases for educators."  

The most recent two-year contract with SPFE expired on July 1, 2021. 

"I wish we could avoid this all together, but the fact remains that public education is not funded for us to achieve desired outcomes for students, and there are examples of that across the board," said Gothard at the news conference. "I think we’re going to continue to have differences on how we arrive at a balanced budget."

According to a statement, the district is putting an additional $22.8 million toward mental health services for students and staff - and millions in equity training for staff - but even with additional funding provided by the American Rescue Plan, costs cannot exceed money coming in and won’t be spent on additional staff or initiatives that can’t be sustained.