The St. Paul teachers union and school district officials start their next round of contract talks Thursday.
The two sides will meet in a 12-hour negotiation session ahead of a planned strike vote on Monday. Both sides hope to work out an agreement and avert a strike.
The union has been working to negotiate a new two-year contract for teachers since May. Their demands include limits on class sizes, more support staff and less assessment testing.
Teachers say they're not considering a strike over pay and compensation, but that's one of the issues still on the table. The union wants a raise of about $1,000 for teachers in each of the two years of the contract, with an additional raise for veteran teachers.
The district agrees with many of the issues teachers are advocating for, but maintains those demands are too expensive, costing $158 million over two years.
Matt Mohs, the district's lead negotiator, hopes Thursday's talks are productive.
"We are coming into the session hoping to further the dialogue on the issues that are important to both sides," Mohs said.
The president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, Mary Cathryn Ricker, said the union's demands are focused on teaching and learning conditions.
"We see an obligation to do whatever we can to provide the most equitable education we can to the students of St. Paul public schools, or we wouldn't be here," Ricker said.
This appears to be the first time class sizes, hiring support staff and issues over testing have made their way to the negotiating table in Minnesota.
In recent years there's been a trend of moving these issues into contract talks nationally.
When Chicago teachers took to the picket lines in 2012, testing, support staff and class sizes were among the issues that led to a strike. After an eight-day walkout, the district agreed to hire more support staff and hold the line on class sizes and assessment testing.
Portland teachers recently voted to strike over some of the same issues teachers in St. Paul have raised.
As a strike deadline loomed this week, teachers in Portland came to an agreement with the district, averting a strike.
The Oregonian reports the tentative contract includes hiring more teachers to lower class sizes.
In St. Paul union and district negotiators promise to stay at the table Thursday as long as talks are productive.
A state mediator has said additional talks could be scheduled if needed in the coming days.
If teachers do vote in favor of a strike, the door would still be open for negotiations before a walkout. The union is required to file an intent to strike 10 days before any labor action can occur.
The state teachers union, Education Minnesota, announced Wednesday it would sponsor an emergency loan program for teachers in the event of the strike.
The no-interest loans would be funded by the American Federation of teachers and the National Education Association.
The St. Paul Federation of Teachers will hold strike information sessions for teachers Friday, Saturday and Sunday ahead of Monday's strike vote.