Teacher contract talks in St. Paul intensified this week with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers scheduling a strike authorization vote for Jan. 31.
The move prompted the district to activate a “strike action team” to prepare for a possible walkout.
Money is tight, and differences remain, but Superintendent Joe Gothard was hopeful that a deal could be reached.
On Thursday, the two sides met in mediation and reached tentative agreements on two issues. Additional sessions are planned for Feb. 2 and Feb. 7, the district said in a news release Thursday night.
The vote scheduled by the union would give federation leaders permission to call a strike with 10 days’ notice.
Nick Faber, the union’s president, said in a news release Wednesday that members had been disappointed with talks thus far but “remain committed to creating the schools St. Paul children deserve.”
In 2014, the union’s executive board set a strike authorization vote, but it was called off after a two-year deal was struck. That came when the district was stronger financially and after the federation achieved great success in rallying community support. Since then, K-12 enrollment has been falling, and annual budgets have been cut.
Last fall, school district negotiators announced a united front behind limiting contract increases to 1 percent of current salary costs. For teachers, that would mean about $2.1 million per year in new spending. Exempt from that calculation would be the $8 million in automatic pay increases already budgeted annually for years of service and education levels attained, also known as steps and lanes.
The union has sought a costlier two-year package that would include 2.5 percent salary increases per year, plus the hiring of additional support staff and smaller class sizes.
The federation also wants the district to join it in pressuring corporations and tax-exempt institutions to contribute financially to the schools. On Thursday, the district said it was willing to do so if the union works with it to complete an application to enter the state’s Q Comp alternative pay program for teachers by March 15.