St. Paul teachers union sets Tuesday strike date as talks continue

St. Paul public school teachers are poised to walk off the job on Tuesday, closing schools for more than 37,000 students.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers announced Wednesday night it has set a Feb. 13 strike date.

The union and the district have been in contract talks since last fall, including seven mediation sessions. But differences remain on pay, support for students learning English, class sizes and reform of student discipline. For its part, the district has asked teachers to agree to a mandatory 40-hour on-site work week and to join the state's Q-Comp program, although both of those demands have reportedly been dropped.

A strike could close 56 schools and programs. In its statement, the union says it is planning so-called "Safe Sites" to serve students if schools aren't open, potentially including meals, transportation and staff. The union isn't saying how many students it might accommodate.

It would be the district's first teacher strike since 1946.

The district says the school board will hold closed door meetings on contract talks Thursday night and Friday, as well as meetings Saturday and Sunday afternoon. District negotiators are also in mediation talks with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers Thursday and Friday and have agreed to meet through the weekend.

The district says it is preparing for a strike, and in a statement said it is "exploring various options in an effort to minimize impact to families," although it isn't offering any details.

School officials are also warning other unions that there may be layoffs if classes are disrupted. The district says it has more than 3,000 teachers, as well as well as more than 2,500 other staff.

In a letter to the Pioneer Press, Superintendent Joe Gothard said the district wants to settle a contract.

"But make no mistake: The challenges facing our district are real. We have seen declining enrollment in recent years, continued disparities in student achievement, and a $23 million budget deficit in the present school year."

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