St. Paul teacher's union authorizes strike, asks for investment in support programs

The St. Paul teacher's union voted overwhelmingly Wednesday night to authorize a strike after a months-long series of negotiations with the district took a nosedive, though officials with both SPPS and the union say they hope to have an agreement before any classes are canceled.

It's a near unprecedented move that hasn't been seen in St. Paul for more than 28 years, holding the potential to affect more than 3,000 teachers and nearly 40,000 students.

Negotiations began in August and the district did offer teachers and support staff a small raise, though the union ultimately says that without intervention, programs that support students will suffer--something they're using their bargaining power to avoid. At the same time, the school district maintains that it's strapped for cash and unable to make the investments SPFT is asking for.

"[The strike vote] shows that our members are frustrated that they’re not being heard and they’re not being taken seriously," union President Nick Faber said. "Nobody wants to walk out of their classroom and walk away from their students, but sometimes that’s the only way you’re going to be heard."

In part, the teachers are asking for smaller mandated class sizes and an increased number of support staff, as well as better mental health support and increases in English programs for non-native speakers, among other things.

The school board released a statement that reads in part, “We are disappointed that the St. Paul Federation of Teachers members have voted to authorize a strike. While differences clearly remain between the district and the teacher’s union, we do not believe that they are irreconcilable."

Now that the strike has been authorized, both sides have 13 days to come to an agreement. They return to the negotiating table Friday.