St. Paul public school teachers would see pay raises of about 2 percent for the rest of this school year and next, and schools would get an infusion of cash to pay for a student behavior program, plus more counselors, social workers, psychologists and nurses to help address school climate and the district's most troubled students.
Those are some of the highlights of a tentative agreement with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers shared by school district officials Monday afternoon. The agreement received the teachers union's executive committee backing Monday night. It also will be reviewed by leaders at each school site.
Improving school climate and addressing school safety have been major points of emphasis for the district's teachers over at least the past couple of school years.
"This is a significant step forward," said Ryan Vernosh, the district's director of communications. "We're committed to working together."
Beyond the pay raises — 2 percent retroactive to Jan. 9 and 2 percent effective July 1 — the tentative deal would put $4.5 million into a package of school discipline practices to be rolled out over the next three years. Staff at individual schools would determine whether to be part of the program and what kind of program would be put in place.
Union President Denise Rodriguez said Monday night that the union's executive board is recommending ratification of the contract, and teachers are expected to vote on it on Friday.
Laurin Cathey, executive director of Human Resources, said the process would be a "slow build" over the next three years, as the number of pilot sites would go from six to nine to 12.
"We want schools to have the flexibility to do what is best for their kids," Superintendent Valeria Silva said.
Another highlight of the proposal is adding 30 full-time equivalent positions to the schools — as counselors, psychologists, social workers, ELL teachers and nurses. Again, the idea would be to give schools the flexibility to choose which positions they need, Cathey said.
Silva said schools, assistant superintendents and data will determine where positions will be added.
Impact on budget
If approved by teachers and the St. Paul school board, the agreement will probably require budget cuts in other areas to pay for the additional staff and programming, Silva said. District officials already were anticipating cuts to the 2016-17 school budget. Officials said the proposed contract would add about $21 million in pay and benefits to district costs. Adding the 30 positions is expected to cost another $3.5 million.
Whether the emphasis on the discipline program, called "restorative practices," and new staff to support the most troubled students results in cuts elsewhere won't be known for months, Vernosh said.
About 70 classroom teachers retire each year, so it is not yet known if staff attrition could help absorb the increased costs.
The emphasis on school climate comes after unrest over safety concerns and the district's handling of them helped lead to a major upheaval in the school board. Two newly elected board members — Steve Marchese and Chairman Jon Schumacher — took part in the 24-hour mediation session that led to the tentative agreement Friday.
The teachers union had pitched a detailed plan to improve the school environment in the wake of recent violent incidents. The agreement now before the teachers appears to include elements of that plan.
School district officials said that if the teachers approve the pact, they expect it to go before the school board at a meeting later this month.