Talks resume as Minneapolis teachers' strike extends into third day

Minneapolis teachers walk out in front of the state Capitol.
A woman chants along with the crowd at a rally for Minneapolis teachers and education support staff at the Minnesota State Capitol on Wednesday.
Caroline Yang for MPR News

Updated: 3:45 p.m.

Mediation resumed Thursday as the strike by Minneapolis Public Schools teachers and support staff extended into a third day.

The district said several hours of mediation was scheduled for Thursday; as of Thursday evening there were no reports from either side of progress in resolving the dispute.

Additional sessions between the district and its teachers or support staff, or both, are planned for Friday and Saturday.

The two sides remain far apart in negotiations. The Minneapolis district says it can't afford what the union is demanding in pay increases, class size limits and additional mental health supports for students.

"If their total package of things that they're asking in their proposal were added up, it's roughly $166 million above what we've already budgeted for," Superintendent Ed Graff said earlier this week, saying there's agreement that teachers and education support staff should be paid more, but "unfortunately, the reality is that we’re resource-limited.”

But leaders with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers dispute that.

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"We don't have a budget crisis in Minneapolis, we have a values and priorities crisis in Minneapolis," Shaun Laden, president of the union's education support professionals' chapter, said at a State Capitol rally on Wednesday. “I think what’s very clear to our members is that they are very determined to break this system that has been driving our district off a cliff, and I don’t think they understand how determined our members are.”

Greta Callahan, president of the union's teachers' chapter, disputed superintendent Graff’s characterization of the cost of their demands topping $160 million and said a 17 percent pay increase for teachers in their latest offer made up for decades of stagnant wages.

"They continue to say, 'Well, let's talk about these little things.' And we're saying that's not going to settle a strike," Callahan said of negotiations with the district. "We are 100 percent committed to settling the strike and they need to talk about our members' top priorities. They are no longer in control. We have 5,000 people on the streets. We are in a righteous fight. Our members are not going to back down and we are listening to them."

Union leaders also are pointing to a tentative agreement reached earlier this week between St. Paul Public Schools and its educators, saying it's proof that their demands can be met.

And they say they want a portion of the state's projected $9.25 billion budget surplus to be used to provide more money for Minnesota's schools.

The union held a rally and march in downtown Minneapolis at midday Thursday, starting at the Hennepin County Government Plaza. The union said in a statement that speakers at the rally were set to “demand our elected leaders make wealthy corporations and multi-millionaires pay their fair share of taxes and pay workers wages that will sustain their families. The time is now for Minnesota to fix the mixed-up priorities that have led to underfunded schools.”

The ongoing strike means more than 30,000 Minneapolis kids were out of school for a third day Thursday.

The Minneapolis school district started distributing meal bags for students on Wednesday. The district says students, parents or caregivers can pick up a bag with one breakfast and one lunch per student each day between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. at the school where the student is enrolled. Pickup at another location is possible — but parents or guardians need to contact that school.

The district's school-based clinics and mental health services also are continuing during the strike, as are varsity athletics.

About 30,000 students and 4,500 staff have been out of classrooms since the strike started Tuesday.