Minneapolis teachers begin strike, St. Paul educators and district reach tentative agreement

A group of teachers walk with picket signs.
Teachers walked the picket line on Nicollet Avenue in front of Page Middle School in Minneapolis as a strike began Tuesday.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Updated March 8, 6:30 a.m.

Negotiations between the Minneapolis public school district and its teachers union on a new contract have failed, and a strike is set to begin Tuesday, a union leader confirmed. Meanwhile St. Paul educators say they’ve reached a tentative agreement with St. Paul Public Schools and will not strike.

Greta Callahan, head of the teachers chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, made the announcement late Monday afternoon. In a statement union officials described the school district leadership as “entrenched in the unacceptable status quo.”

The strike was widely expected, as the district has said the two sides were millions of dollars apart. It will shutter classrooms for more than 30,000 kids and have about 4,000 teachers and staff out of work. There is no immediate indication when talks might resume.

“While it is disappointing to hear this news, we know our organizations’ mutual priorities are based on our deep commitment to the education of Minneapolis students,” Minneapolis Public Schools said in a statement. “MPS will remain at the mediation table non-stop in an effort to reduce the length and impact of this strike.”

The statement confirmed that all classes pre-K through 12th grade will be canceled for the duration of the strike, as well as Transition Plus classes. They shared community resources for those who may need child care.

The tentative agreement in St. Paul includes keeping class size caps, one-time recognition payments to educators and “increased compensation, particularly for educational assistants who are often the lowest paid employees in the district,” according to a press release from Education Minnesota.

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“This agreement could have been reached much earlier. It shouldn’t have taken a strike vote, but we got there,” said SPFE President Leah VanDassor in the statement. “Educators and parents knew the last thing our students needed were larger class sizes, fewer supports and more educators leaving the profession. We were able to settle a contract that invests in our students and recognizes the hard work of St. Paul educators, especially our educational assistants.”

St. Paul Public Schools superintendent Joe Gothard said more details from the tentative agreement would be shared in the coming days.

“I believe we have arrived at fair and equitable agreements that respect our collective desire to do right by our students, while working within the district’s budget and enrollment limitations,” Gothard said.

The unions in Minneapolis and St. Paul were both seeking caps on class sizes, higher wages for paraprofessionals, and more mental health support for students.

Both the MFT and Minneapolis Public Schools said negotiations lasted for hours on Saturday and Sunday, with proposals presented from both sides.

"Nobody wants to go on strike. None of the teachers do. None of the staff wants to,” said Ruth Krider, a second-grade teacher in St. Paul. “But for the kids, and for the students, and for their learning environment, it just needs to happen. We can bend, but we won't break."

In Minneapolis, a meal bag containing breakfast and lunch for students will be available daily. MPS may also have limited child care spots available on an emergency basis. The district is urging parents to find other child care options.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities said it’s waiving annual membership fees for all new members during the strike; space is limited.

Two YMCA locations in Minneapolis are providing K-5 child care — registration required.

And the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is offering extended hours for elementary-age kids at 10 of its recreation centers.

A coalition of Black civic, religious and education leaders said a teachers strike will be a further setback for kids of color, and called for teachers in Minneapolis and St. Paul to resolve their differences with the school districts.

“At the end of all of this, the ones that will suffer ultimately will be our kids. And this is the challenge. And this is why we implore the administrators and teachers to come to some amicable agreement. Because the ones that will suffer will be our kids, and kids have been suffering long enough,” said Melvin Miller, a pastor at Progressive Baptist Church and the president of the St. Paul Black Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance.

Several black pastors said their churches are trying to take kids in during the day, as their parents were working.

School district officials have said they're already facing budget shortfalls due to enrollment losses stemming from the pandemic and can't spend money they don't have.

The average annual salary for St. Paul teachers is more than $85,000, while it's more than $71,000 in Minneapolis. However, the districts also employ hundreds of lower-paid support staffers who often say they don’t earn a living wage, and those workers have been a major focus of the talks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.