Lakeville educators voted to authorize a strike over the weekend, allowing union negotiators to call for a work stoppage as they continue bargaining with district administrators. The vote came a day after education support professionals in the Minneapolis district also authorized a strike.

Lakeville union officials said 99% of educators who participated in the poll, taken Thursday and Friday, voted to authorize the strike. Out of 762 members, only nine did not vote, union officials said.

"Lakeville teachers are standing strong together for what they need — fair wages, benefits and job stability," union president Carrie Popp said in a statement.

District officials in a statement confirmed that wages and the assignment language remain key issues during negotiations. They emphasized that their proposal limits reassignments to 15 employees per year.

While the Minnesota Legislature increased school funding by more than $1 billion per year during the 2023 session, much of that money is earmarked for various programs, district officials noted in their release.

"This exacerbates the longstanding gap caused by decades of state funding shortages, despite the overall increase," said Stephanie Kass, the district's executive director of communications and public relations.

District and union negotiators came to a tentative agreement in February that would have increased teacher salaries by 1% this school year and 5% for the 2024-25 academic year. Teachers rejected that contract, which would have also raised pay for prep time and allowed administrators to transfer up to 15 teachers per year.

Union leaders said in a release that they were looking for "substantial" wage increases, more affordable health care and benefits and pushed back against the transfer language. Lakeville Area Schools is among the state's largest districts — only nine districts enroll more students. There are more than 300 school districts in the state.

It's taken longer than usual for Minnesota school districts and teachers unions to settle contracts lately as labor negotiations take place amid the backdrop of high inflation and the sunsetting of federal pandemic aid. Two of the state's largest districts — Anoka-Hennepin and St. Paul — didn't settle with their teachers unions until well into 2024, months after their contracts expired. Minneapolis teachers reached a tentative agreement, which still must be approved, last week.

Union negotiators will next meet with a district bargaining team on May 6. Educators plan to rally outside the Lakeville district offices on Tuesday ahead of the school board meeting.

Union leaders would need to file an intent to strike at least 10 days before educators picket.