Teacher strikes loom in St. Paul, Minneapolis: 5 key questions, answered

Teachers picket on a sidewalk.
In March 2020, St. Paul educators on strike march down Wheelock Parkway near Como Park Elementary.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Almost all Minneapolis teachers and support staff voted in favor of a strike. In St. Paul, 78 percent of voting union members said they were in favor. Both public school districts held votes on Thursday. Here’s what could happen next.

1) Will teachers strike?

It’s possible a strike could be avoided. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers was expected to reenter negotiations with the district Friday.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators is scheduled to resume talks with district leaders on Tuesday next week.

The St. Paul school board on Friday said that although the union and district had disagreements, they thought “these differences can be bridged.”

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If either or both unions decide to go ahead with a strike, they will need to notify the district in writing and then wait for a 10-day cooling-off period before they walk out of classrooms. An agreement could happen during that period.

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers president Greta Callahan said she hoped a strike could be avoided.

“We’re hoping that walking in with 97 and 98 percent of our members saying they’re going to walk — that the district is going to decide to invest in our kids. We also have another mediation session on Tuesday with the Minneapolis Public Schools, and we are really excited and hope that we can avoid a strike altogether and they’re going to do some big movements,” Callahan said Friday. 

2) If teachers strike, will classes in Minneapolis and St. Paul districts be canceled?

If either district fails to reach an agreement in negotiations and educators go ahead with a strike, classes would be canceled in that district’s schools.

The number of educators represented by both the Minneapolis and St. Paul teacher unions is more than 8,000. The total number of students potentially affected by a strike is close to 62,000.

3) What do educators want?

In St. Paul, union leaders are asking for limits on class sizes, better mental health support and wage increases. In a statement, the union said it’s focused on protecting the future of public education and that this strike vote is not a decision they took lightly, but a necessary step to reach a settlement with the district.

In Minneapolis, union leaders are asking the district, the third-largest in Minnesota, to raise pay for teachers and education support professionals, reduce class sizes, adjust special education caseloads, designate teachers to work with quarantined students and boost mental health services for students. 

4) What’s the response from district leaders?

Minneapolis district leaders said the union’s proposals for pay increases are “not fiscally feasible.” They say they can offer union members a salary package of $20.2 million over two years but can’t meet the request to increase the current package by more than $110 million over two years, as educators want.

St. Paul superintendent Joe Gothard said the district is already facing a $42.8 million shortfall due to losses in student enrollment.

“As a district, we simply do not have the budget to support the wage increases and additional staff and other supports that [the union] is asking for,” Gothard told reporters earlier this month. 

5) Could COVID-19 aid meet the demands?

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul districts received COVID relief funding as part of the American Rescue Plan.

Gothard said the St. Paul district spent some of the $206 million it received on additional counselors, nurses and social workers, as well as training for staff in trauma response. They’ve also moved to recruit and retain staff of color and enhance programs for English language learners.

But he said the money won’t help to hire permanent staff or increase wages across the board beyond September 2024.

All sides say they are worried about the historic lack of funds for special education and English language learner services.