Contract talks between the St. Paul Public Schools and the union representing its teachers are headed again to mediation.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators, which pushed the district to the brink of a strike in the last round of negotiations, is behind the current move to take talks private.

Superintendent Joe Gothard said this week he was disappointed: "The issues of supporting students, decreasing disparities and providing culturally relevant instruction for all students should be negotiated in a public forum," he told board members Tuesday.

The union's move comes a few weeks after members presented the board with a petition signed by 3,000 people backing proposals that include having a mental health team in every building, increased support for English language learners and appropriate caseloads for special-education professionals.

The mental health teams would include social workers, counselors, psychologists, nurses and behavior intervention specialists. The union made the proposal its lead priority in talks beginning this spring.

The district has countered that not every building may require that level of staffing, and has called, instead, for a committee to develop a phase-in plan to support student mental health and behavioral needs.

This fall, the district posted on its website that it was earmarking a total of $9.6 million in new spending over two years for the union's contract, which also covers educational assistants and school and community service professionals.

Gothard, who has taken part in the negotiations, said the union has pitched about 30 proposals that would cost more than $30 million — not including wages and benefits.