The leadership of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers is calling on its members to vote this Wednesday to authorize a strike and potentially disrupt the learning of more than 39,000 students, complicate the lives of thousands of families all over the city and reduce the earnings of some 4,000 educators in the St. Paul Public Schools.
As a St. Paul teacher and former president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, I am opposed to my union’s divisive tactics and rhetoric directed at the leadership of our school district and at our businesses and nonprofits in St. Paul.
Many teachers and citizens worked hard in 2015 to bring new leadership into our school district via the Caucus for Change. We elected four new school board members who, along with their other colleagues, hired our new superintendent, Joe Gothard, an effective leader who has earned praise for his previous educational accomplishments and who is thoughtful, personable and committed to listening to and learning from all the stakeholders in our district.
The federation had an opportunity to work collaboratively with Gothard and the school board based on mutual respect and an understanding that all of us — teachers, the superintendent, school board members and the community — want what is best for our kids.
Instead, the federation leadership chose a premature path of confrontation, finger-pointing, fearmongering and power politics to push its agenda. They chose to vilify at least one member of the school board as well as “the district,” universities and businesses in our city.
These institutions provide valuable services, employment and income in our city and some of them have contributed volunteers, supported special programs and provided financial resources to our schools for many years. Any discussion about generating more income and support from these institutions should be done collaboratively with representatives from these companies, nonprofits, universities, the school board, the union, the mayor and local elected officials, and other educational stakeholders.
There needs to be a full and open discussion about all of the issues related to how we fund and support our schools in St. Paul.
The St. Paul Federation of Teachers deserves a strong voice in helping shape educational reform in our district. Our members work hard every day for the kids of St. Paul. They know firsthand the challenges our staff and students face. But our parents, taxpayers, community members, and institutional and business leaders also deserve a seat at the table.
The St. Paul School District is faced with a projected $27 million budget deficit. The federation has developed a laundry list of proposals that would cost tens of millions of dollars for staffing, programs and many other initiatives that are simply not affordable at this time. Moreover, some of the most important issues facing our students, teachers and schools — declining enrollment, closing achievement gaps, empowering teachers and administrators to raise academic and behavioral expectations and holding students more accountable for work completion — are not even on the union’s list of proposals.
I will vote no on authorizing a strike and vote yes for working collaboratively and respectfully with our school board and all of the stakeholders in our community to improve our schools.
Strong-arming allies; using strike threats every bargaining year; spreading fear among teachers and the community — these tactics compromise the integrity of our union and are simply not justified in this round of negotiations. This is a year to build collaborative relationships, to work together to strengthen the fiscal health of our schools and build united communities around high expectations in each and every school. So, let’s drop the confrontational tactics, roll up our sleeves and get the job done. Do it for the kids, their families and all of the teachers and educational staff who work in our schools.
Ian Keith is former president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers and a teacher at Randolph Heights Elementary School in St. Paul. The opinions expressed here are solely his own.