SPFT, district reach agreement, pledge to take on funding shortfalls together

SPFT President Nick Faber speaks at a press conference in the library at Galtier Community School, where he did his student teaching 31 years ago.

Members of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers will not strike tomorrow, but they aren’t walking away from the fight for fully funded, racially equitable schools.

After 13 hours of mediated talks that began Sunday, union and district negotiators reached tentative agreements on three contracts covering SPFT’s 3,700 members early this morning, averting a strike. Details of the agreements are not yet public.

During a press conference at Galtier Community School this afternoon, union and district leaders said collaboration was key to reaching common ground at the bargaining table – and will remain critical as the two sides carry forward their work to tackle funding shortfalls facing the St. Paul Public Schools.

“We are dedicated to working with our district and whoever else it takes to increase that funding so our kids can have the schools that they deserve,” SPFT President Nick Faber said. “SPFT is extremely excited about that work going forward, and we know we can work in the (spirit of) collaboration that we ended negotiations in … this morning.”

“We are so strong together,” Superintendent Joe Gothard said, adding that whatever approach the district takes to raising revenue, leaders know “we will not be able to do this alone.”

Collaboration could involve lobbying together at the Legislature or partnering in efforts to recruit new students, Gothard and Faber said. It might also mean working jointly on a levy referendum or other potential revenue sources.

The mutual commitment to raising revenue – whatever approach it takes – is a victory for SPFT, which refused to allow scarcity to dictate contract negotiations despite the district’s projected budget shortfall.

Instead, union proposals took aim at creating fully funded schools staffed with nurses, librarians and social workers, with smaller class sizes and expanded preschool and family-engagement programs. To realize its vision, SPFT called on the district to join its members in pressuring tax-exempt large nonprofits and corporate tax dodgers to pay their fair share.

The groundbreaking approach drew national attention and sparked public debate likely to outlive the next bargaining agreement. “We consider that a win,” Faber said.

“This contract campaign was centered around the myth of scarcity, but our corporate campaign continues on,” he added. “There is a lot of money in this state, we’re just making political decisions not to put it into our classrooms, particularly our classrooms with kids of color in them.”

SPFT’s bargaining team, meanwhile, said the proposed contracts for school and community service professionals, educational assistants and teachers make progress on several of union members’ top priorities.

“We won supports for our students, especially our English Learners and our students who receive Special Education services,” a post on the union’s website read. “We defended our class size language and strengthened the commitment to Restorative Practices.”

Although both sides struck a conciliatory tone at the press conference today, negotiations between SPFT and the district were the most heated in years, with union members voting overwhelmingly Jan. 31 in favor of authorizing a strike. Faber called the strike authorization “an awesome responsibility and an awesome piece of strength” in negotiations.

“Teachers go into this profession to be in a classroom, not out of it,” he said. “So when people are so passionate that they’re willing to walk, that’s an incredible feeling. It did offer us a great deal of leverage and sense of purpose going into those final conversations to make sure we delivered for our members.”

SPFT will hold informational meetings with members about the contract Thursday, and the union expects to hold a ratification vote early next week.

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