St. Paul teachers endorse tentative contract, as negotiations continue in Minneapolis

People hold signs during a strike outside.
Tari Hella-Yelk from the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, joined striking Minneapolis teachers cheering for the students who marched to the Minneapolis Public Schools Davis Center from North High School to stage a sit-in in support of striking Minneapolis teachers.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News

Updated: 7:25 p.m.

St. Paul teacher union members on Wednesday voted to ratify a tentative new contract that was agreed upon just hours before they nearly went on strike last week.

“We didn’t get everything,” St. Paul Federation of Educators president Leah VanDassor said before the voting. But she praised the contract as one that “invests in our students and recognizes the hard work of St. Paul educators, especially our educational assistants.”

The tentative agreement includes a 2 percent annual salary increase over the next two years for teachers and community service professionals as well as a $3,000 one-time bonus for pandemic work.

It also addresses pay for education assistants, who will get a 13.5 percent wage increase. The median compensation for EAs will be just under $50,000 by the end of the contract. Starting wages for EAs would also go from $15.94 per hour to $18.82 per hour.

The contract includes language about class size averages and caps. In some high-poverty schools or grades, the cap decreases by one student per classroom. And the district has agreed to hire six more psychologists to better support students’ mental health.

The contract now goes to the district school board for approval. The board will vote on the contract on April 19.

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Minneapolis union leaders have pointed to St. Paul’s agreement as a model they wish their own district would follow.

“Our students deserve what St. Paul students got when St. Paul Federation of Educators recently settled for class size caps in their contract, mental health supports in their contract and livable wages for education support professionals,” said Shaun Laden, the union’s education support professionals’ president.

The salaries and wages of teachers and education support professionals in Minneapolis are lower than in St. Paul. Minneapolis teachers make an average of $14,000 less per year than St. Paul teachers. And education support professionals in Minneapolis make a starting wage of only $15 per hour, as compared to $15.94 in St. Paul.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers wants to raise wages for education support professionals as well as teachers. They’re also asking that their contract include language about class size limits and that the district improve student-to-mental health professional ratios.

The district has made offers in this direction, like a 9 percent wage increase over two years and a $3,000 bonus for ESPs. But the union is asking for increases in the range of 23 to 44 percent.

Minneapolis district leaders say they’d like to pay their education support professionals and teachers more, but say their budget constraints mean they can’t afford to do so.

But Laden pushes back against that argument, insisting his union wants to work within Minneapolis’ budget constraints.

“It’s absurd to say that the people working in schools want to drive their district off a financial cliff,” Laden said. “We just need to use the money differently.”

Laden wants the district to invest more of its money in the union employees rather than in newer programs.

“Do we staff schools with interventionists or with teachers?” Laden said.

Laden did not give specific examples of programs he wants the district to cut.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers also is focused on the decision-making model the district uses. By putting language in the contract about the types of supports the district is required to provide students, the union wants to counter hiring and decision making power held by principals.

“It’s a key value for workers to share power with management,” Laden said. “We can negotiate over the level of supports, but we need to get something on this in the contract.”