Pay raise, smaller class sizes included in St. Paul teachers contract agreement

The St. Paul School District and the teachers union released details Monday afternoon on the contract agreement reached late last week to avoid a strike by teachers.

The tentative two-year contract, which has yet to be approved by the school board and union members, includes a pay raise for teachers and agreements on issues teachers say they were most concerned about: lowering class sizes and hiring more support staff.

Teachers will get a two and a quarter percent raise in the first year and a two percent boost in the second year — with a bit more for veteran teachers. That will cost the district $22 million over two years.

But teachers have said the negotiation process, and their threat to strike, wasn't about money. It was about class sizes, assessment testing and support staffing levels, which made it into the tentative contract in one form or another.

One such agreement will lower average classes sizes, concentrating on the 30 schools with the most low income students. The agreement covers the next two-year contract as well, stretching into 2017.

The contract also contains an agreement that the district will hire 42 full time-equivalent positions in the two years, resulting in more elementary counselors, school social workers and nurses. The district will shift existing funds to pay for those positions.

The district will put more money in early childhood programs — $6 million — borrowing money in the district's levy now used for all-day kindergarten. The funds will be replaced by the state, which starts paying for all-day kindergarten in the fall.

The contract also includes an agreement that teachers and district administrators will investigate how to best use, and possibly reduce the use of, student assessment testing.

During negotiations the district warned that all of the teachers' demands would cost $158 million over two years, a number they still stand by.

But Superintendent Valeria Silva says the district is moving funds around to pay for many of the proposals teachers and the district wanted. But she admits not all of the issues that were on the negotiating table are in the agreement. "Both sides dropped proposals," Silva said.

The school board will vote on the tentative agreement March 18. Teachers will vote on the contract on March 3. The executive board of the teachers union has recommended teachers vote to accept the agreement.

"That gives me an inkling that our members are going to be excited about this work as well," said Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.

On Monday the statewide teachers union, Education Minnesota, said 54 percent of the 352 local bargaining units in the state have reached contract agreements with their districts. The average salary increase is two percent in each of the contracts' two years.

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