St. Paul Public Schools, the state’s second-largest district with nearly 38,400 students and about 3,100 teachers, is in the sixth month of negotiations with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers.
The district has taken a new approach to talks in this negotiations cycle by stating it plans to limit contracts to 1 percent of current salary costs, which would mean about $2.1 million in new spending for teachers. It has estimated the total cost of the union’s proposals at $159 million.
Outstanding issues include:
More than half of St. Paul teachers earn more than $75,000 per year, tops in the state. The union has proposed 2.5 percent increases in each year of the two-year contract, while the district is offering 1 percent increases. That would be in addition to automatic raises tied to experience and education levels. The cost of any other union proposals would have to come out of the money earmarked for the 1 percent wage increases, the district has said.
The federation wants the district to ask voters to approve a new tax-levy request this year and to join it in pressuring corporations and tax-exempt institutions to contribute money to the schools. At a rally outside Ecolab Monday, Nick Faber, the union’s president, suggested that CEO Doug Baker join the union in lobbying the state for more special-education funding. The district has said it is willing to create a joint education partnership council to pursue such contributions if the union works with it to complete an application to enter the Q Comp alternative education program for teachers by March 15 — a move that would generate about $9 million a year in state aid and local taxes. As of last fall, however, the state had 22 other districts/charters/cooperatives on its Q Comp waiting list.
In previous negotiations, the union succeeded in lowering class sizes by having class size ranges put into the contract. Current ranges for kindergarten are 20 to 25 students in high poverty schools (where at least 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced price lunches) and 22 to 26 in low poverty schools. The union has proposed doing away with the ranges and instituting caps. For kindergarten, the caps would be 20 in high poverty schools and 25 in low poverty schools. The district said such a move would cost $91 million in new teachers alone. The district has offered to keep the current class size ranges intact for schools that are at 95 percent capacity. For the rest, it wants flexibility to grow enrollment. The union says the district’s proposal would increase class sizes at 29 elementary schools.
The beating of a Central High teacher by a student in December 2015, plus other school safety concerns, led the union and the district to agree in 2016 to begin piloting approaches to discipline that emphasize relationship building over punishment. Programs now are in place at nine schools, with an agreement to add three more in 2018-19. The union is proposing to add two pilot schools per year beginning in 2019-20, and is asking that the district provide at least $150,000 per school per year. The district said it wholeheartedly supports restorative practices, and would like to find ways to make it available to more students.
During contract talks in 2014 and 2016, the district agreed to union requests to hire more nurses, social workers, counselors, media specialists and teachers of English language learners. The union is proposing now that each school be required to have one nurse and one librarian, as well as social workers and counselors in numbers determined by staff-to-student ratios. For example, each middle school would be required to have one social worker for every 40 students who receive special education services. The district said it agrees with the types of resources needed in schools, but does not support the use of ratios, saying greater flexibility is needed to run schools based on the needs of students.