District officials, union leaders say deal close to end Minneapolis teachers strike

Minneapolis teachers strike in front of the governor's residence.
Thousands of Minneapolis school teachers and support staff rally for increased funding for public education in front of the governor's residence in St. Paul last week.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News

Updated 7 p.m.

Officials with Minneapolis Public Schools said the district expects to have a deal with its teachers’ union by late Thursday night or early Friday morning.

School Board Chair Kim Ellison said that the board is prepared to meet in an executive session Thursday night to finalize the negotiation. If a deal is reached, students would go back to school on Monday.

"I believe we're close in negotiations. We're going to get a deal tonight, tomorrow morning,” Ellison told MPR News. “I want to let families know, sorry this is taking so long. Hang in there. We're going to get this done."

Earlier Thursday, leaders with the Minneapolis teachers union said significant progress had been made toward a new contract with the school district and that a deal could come together by the end of the day.

Greta Callahan, president of the union's teachers unit, told reporters Thursday morning there had been dramatic movement toward a deal. The head representative for the union's education support professionals also said he expected a deal by the end of the day.

“It can absolutely be the day. We are not having a lot of sticking points, we don’t believe. We have moved dramatically around mental health supports,” Callahan said. 

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It’s a marked change from the most recent rhetoric around the strike, which began March 8. As of 4 p.m. on Wednesday, neither the district nor the union appeared to have scheduled further negotiations. 

Getting mental health support for students has been a main union focus. Earlier this week, according to the district, the biggest line item request from teachers was a $70.9 million investment in increased mental health and special education support.

Callahan said Thursday the union was modifying that request, turning to federal COVID-19 relief money the district has that is due to run out in a few years. 

“They have said very clearly we have one-time money to use for some of these things,” Callahan said. “So we have gotten really creative in some of our proposals to ensure that they can use one-time money for some of this stuff because we know that our students need these supports now. They cannot wait.”

Salary increases for teachers are the largest sticking point left to be resolved, according to Callahan. Union leaders want the district to agree to raise salaries 3 percent the first year and another 3 percent the next year.

“The money is there,” she added, “It’s within parameters and we think, if we can get that done today, let’s get our kids back in school. It’s reasonable, we’re ready to go, and we’re feeling really hopeful.”

There are two contracts at stake in the Minneapolis strike: one for the more than 3,000 classroom teachers in Minneapolis and another for approximately 1,200 unlicensed education support professionals, or ESPs, who work in the district. 

Shaun Laden, leader of the union’s support professionals unit, said he believed talks on Thursday would result in a contract agreement. 

“Education support professionals are extremely close to a deal. I would anticipate this afternoon that we will have one done. Hoping that momentum will carry over into negotiations with our teacher chapter,” Laden said. “I have not been this hopeful that things will be resolved prior.”

If the Minneapolis district agrees to a 3 percent raise, it will be 1 percent more than the agreement St. Paul teachers received in their recent contract. The average wage of Minneapolis teachers is $14,000 less than what teachers make in St. Paul.

Staff shortages are an issue districts have been dealing with across Minnesota and the rest of the country. A recent report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute found state and local public education employment down nearly 5 percent since the start of the pandemic.

The report also found that pay was a widespread concern for support staff and teachers. 

MPR News reporter Matt Sepic contributed to this story.