St. Paul teacher’s union to hold strike vote

People march on a bridge holding signs.
During St. Paul educators' last strike in March 2020, teachers march on the 7th Street bridge in St. Paul. The teacher's union will soon vote on another possible strike.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

The St. Paul Federation of Educators has decided unanimously to authorize a strike vote after months of negotiation and mediation with the district. Members will vote again on a possible strike Thursday.

“After two years of teaching and supporting students and families during a pandemic, we did not make this decision lightly,” the union’s board said in a statement. “Our goal is to protect the future of public education in St. Paul for our students, families and community and we are certain that a strike vote is necessary if we hope to reach a settlement with the district that respects our students’ needs and honors our educators.”

The union wants more concessions from the district on class size limits, substitutes, mental health support teams and wage increases.

But leaders in Minnesota’s second largest district say they’re unable to pay for what teachers are asking for.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

In a news conference on Friday, superintendent Joe Gothard said his district is facing a $42.8 million shortfall due to student enrollment losses. He also said underfunding of special education and English language learner programs contribute to the district’s budget difficulties.

“At the end of the day, it really comes down to dollars and cents,” the superintendent said. “Like everyone’s personal budget, the district cannot spend more than it takes in. As a district, we simply do not have the budget to support the wage increases and additional supports that SPFE is asking for.”

The St. Paul district received $206.9 million in COVID relief funds as part of the American Rescue Plan. Gothard said some of that money has been spent on additional counselors, nurses and social workers, as well as training for staff in trauma response. The district also used federal funds to recruit staff of color and enhance programs for English language learners.

The money was aimed at countering the budget effects of COVID-19 and will not last.

“If we use it to hire permanent staff or increase wages across the board, we will not be able to sustain that investment past September 2024,” Gothard said. “Using these federal funds to fill holes now will only create larger problems down the line.”

The St. Paul district has been struggling with falling enrollment and revenue. In December, the school board voted to close six of their school buildings.

Gothard said closures and pandemic-related uncertainty have roiled the school community.

“I would really like us to put our differences aside for this contract and really focus on what continues to be a challenging year.”

St. Paul educators last held a strike in March 2020 to pressure school administrators for better pay, additional mental health teams, and multilingual interpreters.

The Minneapolis teacher’s union also is considering a strike. Their members will take a strike authorization vote this week, closing Thursday.