Contract negotiations between St Paul’s Public School and its teachers’ union are headed for mediation for the sixth consecutive bargaining cycle.
The district told staff Monday that it has asked the State Bureau of Arbitration Services to help with “the complicated process of negotiating three different contracts” within the St. Paul’s Federation of Education: teachers, educational assistants and schools and For community service professionals.
Since Joe Gotthard became superintendent, the school board has set a limit every two years on how much he is willing to spend on new contracts. However, the district breached that limit in March 2020 to end a teacher’s strike in which students had to spend four days in school.
This time, the district has offered back-to-back increments of 1.5 per cent in 2021-22 and 2022-23 to all bargaining units.
The teachers’ union has called for a consistent 2.5 percent increase, as well as additional pay for educational assistants and higher health and retirement contributions.
Other union proposals include smaller class sizes and a pilot program that places “equity leads” in select schools to train peers on race and gender equality.
“With the ongoing decline in enrollment and state funding that hasn’t kept up with inflation, SPPS simply cannot afford these offers,” Human Resources Director Kenyatta McCarthy said in a letter to employees on Monday.
Central negotiators are pressing the district to use some of its $207 million in federal coronavirus relief grants to raise teacher pay as well as cover other union priorities.
“We have the opportunity to use those funds to support mental health support, smaller class sizes, more multilingual staff and retain and recruit more teachers of color,” the union bargaining team said in a letter to members on Tuesday. “
Although the grant money can be spent on teacher compensation, the money runs out in 2024, and the district already has a spending plan approved by the Minnesota Department of Education.
Last year, the St. Paul district’s median teacher salary was the highest in the state at $85,457, according to a report by the Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.
Commissioner Jan Johnson said that so far, state mediators have been asked to help with 22 contracts between school districts and teacher unions, 12 of which have reached tentative agreements.