The St. Paul school board and the union representing teachers and school support staff have signed off on the two-year deal that ended a three-day strike in March.
As work begins now to sort out the contract’s impact on 2020-21 personnel moves, board members on Tuesday expressed hopes for unity after what had been a divisive chapter for some.
“Let’s put this contract to bed and let’s move on — but let’s move on together,” Board Member John Brodrick said. The board’s unanimous vote followed union ratification more than a month ago.
The strike landed the state’s second-largest district in a national #RedforEd movement in which teachers walked out for increased pay and student support. Union leaders from across the country turned up in St. Paul to fire up crowds at rallies and marches drawing thousands of people.
The St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) eventually succeeded in persuading the district to dedicate an additional $4.7 million to school mental health teams — its priority in talks that began last May.
But questions remained over the deal’s budget implications.
Board materials posted Tuesday showed the contract will cost the district about $11.2 million in new money over two years, or about $1.5 million more than the $9.6 million budgeted by the district for the contract period running between July 1, 2019, and June 30, 2021.
The $9.6 million would cover the 1.5% and 2% raises that the union agreed to over the two years. For teachers, those hikes are in addition to increases tied to longevity and education levels attained — so-called “steps and lanes” that are built into the budget and cost the district about $10 million, Superintendent Joe Gothard has said.
As part of the agreement, the union negotiated about 50 new positions, too, and Gothard said Tuesday he intends to fill them through existing resources. Any current employees who move into the slots will not replaced, he added.
None of the people have been identified, he said, but teacher coaches are among those expected to be reassigned.
When the union ratified the contract, President Nick Faber said the federation secured new resources for students despite a then-brewing pandemic “cutting our fight short,” and vowed that it would continue to use its collective power to advocate for kids.
Board sounds off
This year’s strike came two years after the union threatened a walkout during the previous round of talks. That deal was reached with a day to spare.
Board Member Steve Marchese said the brinkmanship was damaging to the district. The process of aligning district resources to student outcomes should be public, he said, not something determined through private mediation.
“We can’t have repeated circumstances like this come up every two years and expect to have a viable, functional and desirable district that is meeting the needs of its students,” he said.
Board Member Zuki Ellis, a district parent who speaks often of her visits to schools, said she respected the passion on both sides but believed the school system now needed repair.
“We have to talk about what happens next in this district, because this can’t be the breaking point,” she said. “It’s got to be the point where we change it and make it better and different and good.”
Board Member Chauntyll Allen, who was an education assistant at Como Park High School before being elected in November, said she knew as someone who worked at the ground level, and who had heard teachers and students cry out for support, that this year’s strife “was a long time coming.”
She was concerned about a few of the union’s requests, she said, but now is glad the schools are getting extra help.
“I just hope we can keep this budget fiscally balanced,” she said.