St. Paul teachers contract talks headed to mediation

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Contract negotiations between St. Paul Public Schools and the district’s teachers union are headed to mediation once again.

It’s the eighth bargaining cycle in a row where the district and union have brought in a third party to help with the negotiations.

The district on Friday announced both sides agreed to bring in a state mediator to help with the next two-year contract, which will replace the one that expired in June.

State of negotiations

Negotiations for the last contract also went to mediation, and the district narrowly averted a strike. And this year there’s an even bigger gap between what the St. Paul Federation of Educators wants and what the school district says it’s willing to offer.

Early on in negotiations this November there was already a $94 million gap between what the union wanted in new pay, benefits and other programs and what the district was willing to offer.

SPPS officials estimated that requests from the SPFE could top $106 million, and the district said it was willing to allocate only $12.4 million in additional funding.

That gap is already much wider than it was in 2022 when 4,000 teachers and nonlicensed education staff came within minutes of striking.

That year, educators wanted about $60 million in increases, according to district estimates at the time, and the school district said it was only willing to increase spending by about $7.4 million.

District and union leaders reached a contract deal mere minutes before the next day’s classes were canceled. It included $3,000 bonuses, 2% raises and class size reductions.

St. Paul teachers went on strike for four days in 2020, their second strike in history, and almost went on strike in 2018. SPPS started setting a ceiling for how much it would spend on each two-year contract when Joe Gothard became superintendent, but in 2020 it broke that limit to end the strike.

This year could be particularly challenging for the district, which says its hands are tied by a projected $150 million budget shortfall in the 2024-25 school year as federal pandemic aid dries up. SPPS passed a record $1 billion budget earlier this year.

Union and district positions

In the first year of the upcoming contract, the union proposed a $7,500 pay bump for all teachers and community service personnel in the district, as well as a 7.5% raise in the second year. They’re also asking for a $5.43 an hour raise for educational assistants followed by a 7.5% raise in the second year.

Besides wage increases and insurance policy changes, teachers want more funding for student mental health support services and more support for restorative practices — a shift away from traditional discipline like suspensions and moving toward an emphasis on community building.

Meanwhile, the school district is offering a 1% cost of living adjustment in the first year of the contract for teachers and school community service personnel and 1.5% in the second year. Educational assistants would get two consecutive 1.5% raises.

St. Paul teachers are among the highest-paid in the state of Minnesota. In the 2022-2023 school year, the average teacher salary was $87,250, according to data from the Minnesota Professional Educator and Licensing Standards Board, placing the district in the top 10 statewide.

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