Updated: 5:33 p.m.
Teachers and other educators in the St. Paul public schools intend to go on strike March 10 if an agreement on a new contract isn’t reached before then.
The St. Paul Federation of Educators filed its 10-day strike notice with the Bureau of Mediation Services Wednesday morning saying it planned to walk out March 9.
The mediation agency responded that a strike couldn’t be authorized until March 10.
“We disagree with this interpretation but will move forward and focus on negotiating a contract that gives students and educators the schools they deserve,” Nick Faber, the union’s president, said in a statement. “If we don’t reach a settlement prior to that, we will strike on Tuesday, March 10.”
The union, which represents some 3,600 teachers, educational assistants and other professional staff, is seeking better pay and benefits for members and a fully staffed mental health team in every building, as well as additional multilingual interpreters. About 37,000 students are going to schools in the district.
Negotiators have agreed to three mediation sessions in the days leading up to the strike. District leaders are seeking additional meeting dates, including working through this weekend.
“Strikes are scary for everybody and can have a financial impact on educators, too. But we are willing to make that sacrifice so students don’t have to,” said Faber. “St. Paul educators want our students and to have the resources they need. That’s not happening right now.”
The district’s chief operations officer Jackie Turner said should teachers strike, all pre-K through 12 classes and after-school activities will be canceled, but varsity athletics will continue. Several elementary schools would be open from 8:30 in the morning until 3 p.m. to provide what Turner called “age-appropriate activities” as well as lunch and breakfast for kindergarten through fifth grade students. Transportation would be provided as well.
Turner said there’ll be breakfast and lunch available for anyone in the city who’s under 18. And she said the school calendar may have to be modified or extended because of state law that requires a minimum of 165 instructional days.
The district and the union have been bargaining since May 30. At a news conference on Wednesday, Superintendent Joe Gothard said the two sides have tentative agreements on 11 negotiating points, but 38 proposals remain unresolved.
Union members authorized a strike Thursday.
Gothard said he was "extremely disappointed” about the union setting a strike date. He said the open proposals — including 400 additional full-time positions — would cost $53 million a year and the district is facing financial pressure because of declines in both state funding as well as federal dollars for special education services that are required by law.
In November 2018, nearly two-thirds of those who cast ballots voted in favor of the operating levy, which provides $18.6 million a year in additional school funding for a decade.
Gothard said among other things the money is paying for 50 new positions including counselors, English language teachers and career coordinators. Gothard added that staff members have been getting raises while enrollment is down and schools are underfunded.
“We have addressed staff salaries across the board, and try to offer our lowest-paid staff increases,” he said. “So, we’ve continued to invest in that way and invest in the people here. It just leaves us with very little when we’re talking about adding additional staff.”