What will happen if there's a St. Paul teachers' strike?

Members of the St. Paul teachers union protest outside Wells Fargo.
Members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers protested outside Wells Fargo's downtown St. Paul office on December 7, 2017.
Solvejg Wastvedt | MPR News

Updated: 5:16 p.m. | Posted: 3:26 p.m.

Teachers in St. Paul are poised to walk off the job Tuesday if they fail to reach an agreement with the school district, which would shutter classes for St. Paul's 36,869 students.

Teachers have been in contract talks with the district since last fall, including seven sessions with a state mediator. Mediation is expected to continue through the weekend. The St. Paul Federation of Teachers includes three bargaining groups: teachers, educational assistants, and a group of other employees that includes cultural specialists and family liaisons.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

If any of the three groups settles a contract, those employees would not strike. The groups total about 3,800 employees including about 3,200 teachers.

Do schools close if teachers strike?

The St. Paul school district said in a letter to parents that schools and district-run childcare would close Tuesday and remain closed Wednesday if a strike continued. The district said breakfast and lunch would be available at several schools and via a district food truck.

If schools are closed, where will students go?

If a strike continued Thursday, the district said it would bus kindergarten through fifth grade students to the district's middle school buildings for activities and meals. Older students could get meals at other district locations.

District childcare would resume operation Thursday and be available all day on a fee basis.

The union has announced plans for non-school sites that would provide meals and lessons for several hundred of the district's neediest students in case of a strike. The union said it has confirmed three sites at St. Paul Boys and Girls Club locations and is working on additional possibilities. Union members would staff the sites. LEAP High School teacher and union steward Sam DiVita acknowledged the plan would only cover a small fraction of St. Paul students. "I don't know that it's realistic for us to think we can automatically begin serving thousands of kids ... We don't want to spread our resources too thin and then not be able to meet people's needs or jeopardize people's safety," DiVita said.

The school district said it's working on possible expanded hours for city parks and recreation centers but so far has no definite plans.

Why have contract talks stalled?

Big-ticket items still not resolved include wages, class sizes, staffing for English language learners and special education students and funding for the discipline approach known as "restorative practices".

Teachers have proposed lower caps on class sizes and increased support staffing. The district has countered that it can't afford all the proposals and has allocated a total sum of money that amounts to a one percent teacher salary increase, with any non-salary union proposals coming out of that proposed increase.

At a news conference Thursday, district leaders said they're optimistic about a deal. "There's been movement ... even conversations about the remaining issues have taken on a different tone and tenor, I would say over the last couple of days," human resources director Laurin Cathey said.

How would these proposals impact St. Paul schools' budget?

The St. Paul school district has projected a $23 million budget deficit for the current school year and an as-yet-unspecified deficit for next year. This year, the district allocated just over two million dollars for costs associated with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers contract. That figure is a far cry from teachers' proposals. In October, the district estimated that SPFT proposals would cost $159 million over two years. A union spokesperson disputed that figure but did not immediately provide a cost estimate. The district said in a news release it has agreed to work with union leaders to seek additional school funding from corporations. Union leaders have also proposed a November voter referendum to raise taxes. The district recently dropped a push to join the state's Q-Comp teacher compensation program.