St. Paul teachers set March 11 strike date as contract talks continue

St. Paul educators rally on day of strike.
St. Paul educators rally at Global Arts Plus-Upper Campus on the first day of their three-day strike in 2020. On Monday, union leaders with the St. Paul Federation of Educators set a March 11 strike date if a new contract deal isn't reached.
Nina Moini | MPR News 2020

Updated 1 p.m.

Leaders of the St. Paul Federation of Educators said Monday they’ve set March 11 as the date its members will strike if a contract deal with the district is not in place.

Negotiations between the two sides continue. A mediation session is scheduled for Friday. 

In a statement, the union said while it did not make the decision lightly, it was necessary in order to “retain our educators in St. Paul through strong wages and affordable insurance, and continue to build the school communities that our students and their families deserve.”

District officials later said in a statement they were “disappointed” in the union setting a strike date and that a walkout would cancel school for some 33,000 students in pre-K through twelfth grade as well as youth and adult community education classes.

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It also warned that the school year may need to be extended and high school students may struggle to earn enough credits for graduation.

The school board is expected to meet Monday in a closed session to discuss the negotiations.

Federation members earlier in the month voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike against the state’s second largest school district, opening the door to a possible walkout. The union represents about 3,700 teachers, educational assistants and school professionals.

State law requires the union give at least a 10-day notice before the first day of a strike.

District officials have expressed hope a deal can still happen without a strike, although the district in mid-February said the main unresolved issues were tied to “wages, health insurance and other proposals that have significant costs” and that the district still faced a $108 million budget shortfall for next year.

District leaders said over the weekend that while the union’s latest contract proposal showed “a willingness to negotiate and reach an agreement,” it would cost the district millions of dollars more than what it had budgeted and would compromise its future financial stability.

Like many teachers groups in the state, St. Paul educators have been working without a contract since July of last year. Teachers came close to a strike during the last bargaining cycle of 2022 before reaching a deal with the district.

In 2020, union members participated in a three-day strike before reaching a deal.

Among its priorities this year, the union said it’s seeking more staff for mental health teams in every building, increased pay, lower health insurance costs and more help for educators working with students who have special needs. 

St. Paul Public Schools received about $54 million in new state revenue this school year but in earlier statements the district said it would still need to withdraw some $34 million from its reserve funds to cover costs and also make “substantial budget cuts” with COVID relief money expiring.

Many districts, though, are managing to resolve contracts. Anoka-Hennepin, the state’s largest school district, reached a new two-year deal recently with its teachers union.