Members of St. Paul teachers’ union to vote on strike authorization next week

Multiple groups looking to ratify a new contract with St. Paul Public Schools may be voting on a strike authorization next week.

According to the St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE), its executive board decided to authorize a strike vote for Thursday, Feb. 15 during its meeting on Monday evening.

If a strike is approved, the SPFE would still need to decide if the strike was necessary before setting a date and then properly notifying the school district. Under state law, there must be 10 days of notice given to the district before a strike can begin.

The union adds educators haven’t had a contract since July 1, 2023, and filed for mediation with the district in December.

The union represents teachers, educational assistants, and school and community service professionals.

Union officials say items included in their top priorities for the contract include additional mental health teams in every building, lowering health insurance costs, providing more resources for employees who work with students with special needs, increased compensation to recruit and also keep both staff and teachers.

According to the district, SPFE members are working under the contract for 2021 and 2023 until a new one is settled, which they add is standard practice across school districts and other public entities.

District officials released a letter to families about the ongoing negotiations on Tuesday, saying its bargaining team is working to respond to more than 50 proposals presented by the union, and tentative agreements have been reached on several of them. An exact number wasn’t provided, and terms of the proposals weren’t provided.

However, the district did say the union’s proposals would cost about $112 million compared to the $12.4 million that was budgeted for the three contracts.

As reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS last year, the district planned to have a $1 billion budget for 2024, an increase of $118 million from the 2023 budget.  Funding from the state makes up $52 million of that increase.

The district acknowledged the state funding in its letter, but said despite that money, “large funding gaps remain for essential services and investments” and in order to cover all of its expenses, the district plans to withdraw $34.4 million for its reserve funds. The district adds it is planning to make “substantial budget cuts” due to federal COVID-19 relief funds expiring later this year.

CLICK HERE to read the district’s full letter, and HERE for its budget and FAQs.

Union members haven’t gone on strike since 2020, but they did take a strike vote in 2022.

Nearly a year ago, St. Paul Public Schools said it would offer $10,000 bonuses as an effort to fill special education positions across the district, such as special education staff, teachers, social workers, psychologists, speech and language pathologists and more. The $10,000 bonus will be given to the first 70 special education licensed staff hired for the upcoming school year and will be paid over two school years in three installments. Anyone who is currently employed within the district and who gets their license and is hired for a position will also receive the bonus.

RELATED: Strike authorization vote begins Monday for Minneapolis and St. Paul teachers

As previously reported by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, in 2022, a strike was averted after a deal was reached that kept class size language and caps, increased mental health support and guaranteed recess for students. In addition, that deal included pay raises for staff and a one-time bonus “for their hard work over the past two years.”

RELATED: Minneapolis, St. Paul public school officials make plans in event of teacher strike

Later that same year, the school board approved a new contract for Superintendent Joe Gothard, giving him a $16,000 raise. That extension began on July 1, 2023. Gothard has since been named a finalist for the superintendent of the Madison Metropolitan School District in Wisconsin.