The hiring of 30 new teachers of English language learners and 23 people to work with special-education students are among the highlights of the tentative deal struck between the St. Paul Public Schools and its teachers, according to new details released Thursday.
The two sides averted a strike with a day to spare earlier this week but kept much of the details under wraps — other than to say that the contract included 1 percent pay increases per year and that the total cost would not exceed what the district budgeted for the contract.
The new hires are being made possible partly through savings achieved through other contract compromises and without the district having to tap its rainy day funds. Class sizes could increase for middle school and high school students, but plans remain in place for an expansion next year of new approaches to discipline referred to as “restorative practices.”
“It’s a very fair contract for both sides,” Laurin Cathey, the district’s human resources director, said Thursday.
The St. Paul Federation of Teachers briefed the union’s stewards and “contract action team” on Thursday — a week before a ratification vote is scheduled to take place. The union’s executive board has recommended approval of the agreement.
“We’re incredibly happy,” Nick Faber, the federation’s president, said Thursday. “We’re proud of what we were able to accomplish for our students.”
The union’s strike threat has heightened public interest in the contract details, especially with the 1 percent pay increases alone matching the $2.07 million per year in new money that the district earmarked for the deal.
What else could be accomplished — and how?
Last year, the federation led a petition drive promoting changes in the English language learners (ELL) program, which serves many students new to the country. The union wanted greater transparency in how money was spent and a well-defined, six-year graduation path for refugees whose education was limited or interrupted. Last summer, the school board agreed to hire 10 new teachers for 2017-18.
Under the tentative deal, 15 new ELL teachers would be added in 2018-19 and 15 more in 2019-20. In each year, five teachers would be deployed to elementary schools and 10 to high schools, where the district picks up many students who leave charter schools and still are in need of ELL help, Cathey said. Middle school staffing, he added, “seems to be sufficiently covered now.”
To pay for the additional teachers, the district is drawing on several sources, including about $500,000 in new state aid for ELL students, plus savings achieved by changing class size rules and delaying when the 1 percent pay hike for teachers takes effect.
Payments to teachers this year would be retroactive only to Jan. 6, and not July 1. By not paying the first six months, the district also will be able to increase its contributions to health insurance costs for teachers by $15 and $40 per month for single and family coverage, respectively, Cathey said.
Faber said he was pleased to see the district agree to prioritize ELL hires and devise ways to fund that and other contract moves.
“We had some really powerful conversations at the table,” he said. “We would rather have had those conversations happen in September ... [but] in the end, the district decided it’s something we need to do.”
Efforts to provide greater support to special education teachers and their students have been a union priority since 2012.
Under the proposed deal, 23 new support staff positions would be added over the contract’s two years. At least 13 would be educational assistants. Hiring is to begin this school year, Cathey said. The $500,000 cost is to be split evenly between the federal government and the district — the latter through funds currently in the budget but not specified as of Thursday.
The new contract also firms up language involving discipline programs that stress relationship building over punishment. Programs now are in place at nine schools, with three more to be added in 2018-19 under the contract terms agreed to in 2016. The new deal keeps those plans in place and makes clear that each pilot program will be funded for three years.
The union and district also have agreed to work together to pursue new sources of revenue, but the contract does not spell out how they will do it. The targets, however, include corporations and nonprofits, the state and federal governments and, possibly, local voters in the form of a referendum.
Faber said he is eager now to get on with that work.