St. Paul superintendent asking for additional mediation days to avoid impending teacher strike

The St. Paul, Minnesota school district is asking the teachers union for additional mediation days to try to reach a contract agreement before a planned strike next month.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators filed an intent to strike notice Wednesday for a strike beginning Tuesday, March 10. The union represents 3,600 teachers, educational assistants, and other school staff members who work for St. Paul Public Schools. 

The school district and the union have been negotiating since last May. The highest priority for union members is additional mental health staff as well as additional staff for special education and increased pay and benefits. The district said it cannot afford those proposals.  

Both sides have agreed to three additional mediation days ahead of the planned strike, but the school district is requesting additional mediation days. SPPS Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard sent a letter Thursday to the SPFE president and the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services Thursday requesting to meet all day Saturday, all day Sunday and on any other dates and times in order to reach a contract agreement and prevent a strike.

Gothard said he is “committed to achieving a contract settlement without a work stoppage as the result of a strike.” 

The St. Paul Board of Education approved a resolution Wednesday enabling SPPS “to position resources, including non-striking employees, to best meet the needs of students in the event of a strike”, according to a statement.

The resolution gives the superintendent the authority to temporarily close school or buildings as well as cancel programs or activities. It also gives him the power to amend the school calendar to make up for lost instructional time during a strike.

Gothard will also have the authority to temporarily assign and reassign personnel as needed, lay-off non-essential employees and determine essential employees who are not members of the union who must report to work during the strike.

The school district said if a strike happens, all K-12 classes would be canceled along with after school activities, early childhood special education and adult community education. Eight elementary schools would be open from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day for childcare for K-5 students, with transportation and lunch provided.