St. Paul teachers went on strike Tuesday with no sign of a breakthrough in sight, leaving parents scrambling to find care for children shut out of classrooms.
The district said no new talks were scheduled, and St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) president Nick Faber called for picketing to resume at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
“We’re going to be out there until we get this done,” he said outside district headquarters.
The two sides broke off contract talks at 3 a.m. Tuesday after six days of mediation. Four hours later, educators began a day of picketing. The district announced late Tuesday afternoon that school and activities would be canceled again Wednesday.
The union wants mental health teams in every building. The district says it can agree that supports are needed, but the cost of the SPFE proposal simply is too high.
The strike meant a no-school day for the district’s 36,000 students.
At Galtier Community School, parent Kristin Howatt watched over 10 children, as she often will do when school is closed, but she made sure to be there, too, for the teachers and part-time support staff she says she will see “running, literally, to help as many kids as they can.”
Jeff Christenson, who has three kids at EXPO for Excellence Elementary, enlisted a nanny for emergency duty and plans to rely on her and family members rather than have his children take spots in a program from those who might need them more.
Superintendent Joe Gothard said his team is preparing seven sites for use by elementary students from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. beginning Thursday.
“We are rewiring the entire district,” he said of the planning effort. “It definitely is a difficult time.”
Gov. Tim Walz, whose son is a seventh-grader in St. Paul, said the administration is ready to help mediate and negotiate.
“I encourage folks to continue to negotiate in good faith, get back in there to make sure we have the resources necessary, the teachers necessary and the budget necessary to deliver that world-class education,” he said.
The picketing began early Tuesday morning with a full moon in the sky as teachers carrying signs made their way along Interstate 94 overpasses and around Como Park Elementary.
“I say people, you say, ‘Power!’ ” a chant went at Como Park.
After hours of picketing in the morning, spirits were high among the crowd of teachers, parents and students who marched down W. 7th Street from the Global Arts Plus-Upper Campus to the district offices, beating drums, waving signs and shouting chants.
State and national union leaders were on hand — a reminder that St. Paul was the latest entrant in a national #RedforEd movement begun two years ago in West Virginia.
“There are people, even in the great place of St. Paul, who don’t understand that what we are trying to do is help all of our kids thrive,” Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, shouted to hundreds of marchers outside district headquarters.
Kristen Ostendorf, an English teacher at Highland Park Senior High School, said reaction to the strike has been positive.
“We’re hopeful that people will start paying attention and asking the same questions we’re asking,” she said.
Faber said the union had no intention of striking when it began bargaining last spring but had to take action to win its top priority — mental health supports for students.
“Educators all across the country right now are frustrated that our kids aren’t getting the support they deserve, or they’re not getting the wages they deserve, or what have you,” he said Tuesday morning outside Como Park Elementary. “This happens to be our issue.”
Earlier, the SPFE had filed notice that it could walk out Tuesday. Gothard says the state’s second-largest district already has 500 positions dedicated to student health and social-emotional well-being.
The SPFE proposal, he said, would require an additional 300 hires at a cost of $30 million a year.
Faber said Tuesday that the federation offered to have the positions phased in over three years in an effort to compromise.
The two sides also have differed on teacher pay. St. Paul now ranks second in the state in average teacher pay at $75,199 a year.
Entering the weekend, the district was offering increases of 1.5% and 2% over two years, and the SPFE was seeking 3.4% and 2% hikes.
Separate from those requests are pay increases tied to longevity and education levels attained — so-called “steps and lanes,” which are built into the budget and will cost the district about $10 million, Gothard said.
Catrin Wigfall, a policy fellow at the Center of the American Experiment, said in a statement Tuesday that factoring in steps and lanes would give most St. Paul teachers pay increases of more than 10% over two years under the union’s proposal.
“There’s only so much money to go around, and every new dollar spent on teacher salaries will have to come from somewhere,” Wigfall said.
Peter Ratzloff is a science teacher and the strike captain at Galtier Community School. School hours start at 9:30 a.m., but a small group of educators, parents and students turned out early Tuesday as motorists honked their horns in support as they drove by.
He is confident, he said, that the school community can maintain its enthusiasm if a strike lingers.
“I feel good about the energy at our little school,” he said.
Staff writer Torey Van Oot contributed to this report.