Strike avoided as St. Paul teachers, district reach contract deal

People walk out of a building
Members of the St. Paul Federation of Educators in mid-February exit the Carpenters Local Union 322 in St. Paul, after voting on whether to authorize a strike against St. Paul Public Schools. On Tuesday, the union said it had reached a tentative contract deal with the district.
Elizabeth Shockman | MPR News

Updated 5:28 p.m.

Leaders of St. Paul’s teachers union and the city’s public school system said Tuesday afternoon they’ve reached a tentative agreement on contracts. The deal puts to rest weeks of worry over a possible March 11 strike and canceled classes for some 33,000 students and their families.

Officials with the state’s second largest school district said the agreement means there will not be a strike and school will remain in session.

Details are expected to be released after they’re approved by St. Paul Federation of Educators members and St. Paul’s board of education. 

Like many teachers groups in the state, St. Paul educators had 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 walked out in a three-day strike before reaching a deal.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Among its priorities this year, the union said it wanted 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. 

The union ratcheted up the pressure in mid-February when members authorized a strike and union leaders set a March 11 walkout date.

Over the past few weeks, union and district leaders had progress in mediation but had been unable to bridge gaps around wages and benefits. Despite a significant boost from the state last year, the district said it faces a $108 million budget shortfall in 2025 and that some of the union’s proposals would cost millions more than what it had budgeted.

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.

The district and the union — which represents some 3,700 teachers, educational assistants and other professional school staff — met for marathon negotiation over the weekend and returned to talks on Tuesday as the March 11 strike date drew closer.

"I very much like to settle a contract not the night before a possible strike, Erica Schatzlein the lead negotiator for the teachers union, told reporters late Tuesday afternoon as Joe Gothard, the St. Paul schools superintendent, and other district officials looked on.

“I think we're feeling proud right now that our families … they know that Monday morning school is going to occur and all of these educators on my bargaining team are going to be so happy to be back with their students.”

Gothard, who’s set to leave St. Paul this summer to become superintendent of the Madison, Wis., public schools, recalled the pain in 2020 when teachers walked out for three days.

“School is all about community coming together,” he said. “And a strike, and even the lead-up to a strike, it chips away at that.”