Minneapolis teachers strike: More talks planned, but no deal imminent

Minneapolis teachers walk out in front of the state Capitol.
Thousands of Minneapolis school teachers and support staff rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on the second day of the Minneapolis teacher's strike on Wednesday. The Minnesota Federation of Teachers is asking for accessible mental health support for students, lower class sizes, more time to teach for special educators, more teachers of color in the district and higher living wages.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

Updated: March 9, 4:45 p.m. | Posted: March 8, 11 a.m.

Minneapolis public school leaders and district teachers remained at an impasse over a new contract Wednesday morning as schools stayed closed and picket lines stayed up in the district’s first strike in more than 50 years.

Union leaders said they’ll be back at the bargaining table with the school district at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss next steps in mediation on the second day of a strike that's canceled classes for more than 30,000 students.

At a press briefing Wednesday morning, though, they indicated the two sides remain far apart.

Teachers and support staff say they want more pay, lower class sizes and more mental health supports in schools, among other demands.

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District officials say they don't have the financial resources to pay for all of what the union is demanding. Union leaders said this morning that the district needs to re-examine its priorities.

"They keep looking at what we have on the table as something in addition to what they're currently doing. And we want to be very clear that what they're currently doing isn't working," Greta Callahan, a Minneapolis Federation of Teachers leader, said Tuesday.

"They are driving families out of this district, they are driving educators out of this district, and we are here to intervene,” she said. “We are reclaiming our schools, because our kids deserve better and our city deserves better."

Superintendent Ed Graff, however, said the district simply can’t afford the spending the union has asked for. He estimated the union’s total request would require about $160 million more each year on top of the district’s current budget.

“We have all these priorities that we want to have happen and we don’t have the resources for it, and someone’s got to be able to say, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t do it,’” he told reporters late Tuesday afternoon. “If we can’t fix this, it’s not just going to be bad for our Minneapolis public schools. It’s going to be bad for public education and most importantly it’s going to be bad for our kids.”

Graff agreed that teachers and education support staff should be paid more. “Unfortunately, the reality is that we’re resource limited.”

Union leaders pressed their case in front of the Capitol later Wednesday, calling on lawmakers to use some of the state surplus to help settle the strike. They said the district didn't make any counteroffers during a morning meeting.

The strike in Minneapolis came as a work stoppage was averted in St. Paul, after district leaders and educators reached a tentative deal late Monday. Details on that deal have not been released as it's weighed by union leadership, but Minneapolis union leaders pointed to it on Tuesday as evidence their demands can be met.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he’s been briefed on the Minneapolis situation by state mediators but it's too early for his administration to get directly involved. He expressed hope a deal could be reached and said he's pushing to use part of the state's budget surplus to address some of the issues raised by educators.

‘Disrespect to the profession’

Educators were walking picket lines outside schools Tuesday morning — including at Justice Page Middle School in south Minneapolis, where local officials were joined by state and national teachers' union leaders as drivers in passing cars unleashed honking horns in support of the strike.

Meanwhile, parents of many students in the Minneapolis district worked to make alternate child care arrangements — perhaps finding friends or family to watch their kids, or hoping that their employer would accommodate the need for last-minute schedule changes.

Leah Wright, a teacher on the city’s south side with children in the Minneapolis schools, said she was angered by the district’s bargaining stance.

“I feel betrayed, just honestly, just disheartened and betrayed by the fact that it feels so disrespectful that there’s no movement, that there’s no budging. I’m heartbroken about it,” she said during the union’s Tuesday afternoon protest.

“Our kids have had less and less supports and resources as time goes on, when they need more and more supports. It’s very hard for them to get mental health support,” she said, adding that the district will keep losing families and teachers without big changes.

Teachers are also pushing to get raises for educational support staff. Jose Bodeya is an educational support professional on the city's north side. The union wants to raise their starting salaries from $24,000 to $35,000.

Every educator in the city goes above and beyond and they deserve to be fairly compensated, he said. “For the district to say that they don’t have the means, I think, is a disrespect to the profession itself.”

Nicole Moen brought her two young children to a protest in support of the teachers Tuesday. She said it’s even more important after two years of pandemic that the district provide more resources to teachers and students.

”They’re important not just for Minneapolis kids, but for all kids,” the mother of two children said. “And we can’t have the society we want if we don’t have strong schools, healthy schools, safe schools, stable schools, places for our children to learn.”

People hold signs and walk along the sidewalk.
Teachers and supporters stand at the picket line on Nicollet Avenue in front of Justice Page Middle School in Minneapolis as a strike began on Tuesday morning.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Shaun Laden, president of the education support professionals chapter of the Minneapolis teachers' union, said district negotiators needed to take teacher concerns seriously.

”It’s not sufficient. We can’t be in this place in two years again, having a big fight, knock-down, drag-out, over our top priorities,” Laden said. “Let’s get it in the contract like they were able to do in St. Paul.”

Parents left scrambling

In the meantime, more than 30,000 Minneapolis kids are out of school — a familiar experience for many of them and their parents, after two years of the COVID pandemic, but this time without the extra federal financial assistance that helped parents when COVID shut down schools. Before and after-school care is also shut down during the strike.

In Minneapolis, a meal bag containing breakfast and lunch for students will be available daily, starting Wednesday. 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.

As negotiations continued Monday, a coalition of Black civic, religious and education leaders gathered to call on Twin Cities teachers to keep kids in the classroom — and blasted the prospect of a strike in either district when so many kids are struggling to keep up in school.

"Our kids can't read and do math. But all we're hearing from teachers unions is that they feel they deserve a raise. Parents, we've got to stand up, say no. Enough is enough," said Rashad Turner, president and executive director of the Minnesota Parent Union.

Several Black pastors who spoke on Monday said their churches would try to take kids in during the day.

Watch union leaders speak Tuesday on the strike:

Watch Minneapolis school district leaders speak Tuesday about the strike and negotiations:

Watch Minneapolis teachers union leaders update reporters Wednesday morning: