Scores of St. Paul teachers and supporters held “walk-in” rallies before school Wednesday to press for progress in contract talks in the state’s second-largest district.
At least 130 people turned out at American Indian Magnet School on the East Side, to shout union slogans and display signs declaring students “can’t wait” for schools to add more social workers and counselors, among other contract goals.
The St. Paul Federation of Teachers emphasized that the event did not represent a strike-related action. The union and the district have been in mediation over the next two-year contract. Talks resume Thursday.
Federation President Denise Rodriguez said that while the two sides have reached tentative agreements in some areas, “we haven’t made progress in the big issues that are going to meet our students’ needs and reduce racial inequities.”
Asked if the district might see a replay of the union’s move two years ago to schedule a strike authorization vote, Rodriguez said: “Right now our goal is to work with the school district … We hope they come ready to make progress.”
St. Paul’s “walk in” was one of 19 planned by union locals around the country Wednesday as part of an effort organized by the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a coalition of community, civil rights, labor and teacher organizations.
It came a day after the Star Tribune reported that teachers in more than one-third of St. Paul schools were found to have a “weak” or “very weak” commitment to their schools, according to school-by-school surveys conducted a year ago.
Rodriguez attributed the results to teacher frustration over a lack of support staff in schools.
On Wednesday, Laurel Kuhner Berker, a fifth-grade teacher at American Indian Magnet School, said more teaching assistants are needed for classrooms like hers that exceed class-size limits negotiated two years ago.
“I would not strike over money,” she said. “But I’m sick of trying to teach my kids without the support.”
On the pay front, the union has expressed dissatisfaction with a district proposal calling for increases of 0.5 percent in each year of the contract — increases that would be in addition to the automatic hikes for longevity and education levels.
The district said in a statement that it would not comment on contract talks as part of an agreement with the union. It also commended staff members for their advocacy and expressed hope the issues being raised by Wednesday’s events might prompt debate on the “antiquated way” schools are funded.