Nick Faber: Strike, contract campaign led to real gains for St. Paul schools

SPFE President Nick Faber (R) spoke at a union rally outside district headquarters.

– Nick Faber is president of the St. Paul Federation of Educators. He wrote this column for the April 2020 edition of The St. Paul Union Advocate newspaper.

No one should doubt St. Paul educators’ unwavering commitment to our students. We care so much about what our children need, we were willing to strike for them.  

And the short-term sacrifices we made during the three-day strike were worth the long-term gains made for our students and families and the collective power we built as educators.  

Our strike was about getting our students the resources they deserve and breaking down racial disparities in our schools, so all students, no matter what they look like or where they are from, can thrive and succeed.   

The contract ratified March 20 by members of the St. Paul Federation of Educators puts the St. Paul Public Schools on the path to building the schools our students deserve. 

The new contract guarantees the district will spend an additional $5 million to hire more counselors, social workers, intervention specialists, nurses, psychologists and bilingual educational assistants next school year to give students the mental health and multilingual support they need. 

Educators understand how important these supports are to the health and well-being of our students and families. In the 2019 Minnesota Student Survey, 19 percent of eighth-grade girls in St. Paul Public Schools said they seriously considered suicide in the last year. And 40 percent of fifth-graders agreed with the statement, “I worry a lot.” We need more staff to tend to these increasing mental-health needs. 

Hiring more staff who speak different languages also is critical so all families feel welcome and supported at their school. Families in St. Paul schools speak 129 different languages, but many don’t have access to multilingual staff to help them feel welcome and fully participate in their school community. SPPS only has 13 full-time Spanish interpreter positions working in 63 schools and nine Somali interpreters in 45 schools that need them.  

This isn’t just important for our families, but our multilingual staff as well. Many are people of color, some immigrants themselves, who are being pulled away from their primary duties working with students to interpret because there just isn’t enough staff. 

Educators also won on another important issue – expanding restorative practices across the district to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Restorative practices are one way to build community and a positive school climate without pushing students of color out of school.  

We knew the community had our backs in the days leading up to the strike. St. Paul has long valued public education – our schools are always at the heart of our community. But once we went on strike, the support was truly overwhelming. Students came out in droves – some even whipped up pancakes from the back of minivans. Parents brought their babies, future SPPS students, sporting SPFEonesies and buttons to rallies. St. Paul businesses fed educators on the picket lines. I could go on and on. 

The strike empowered St. Paul educators. But we’re not done yet. We’re not done advocating for our students – this is just the beginning.  

Educators across the nation are frustrated. Policymakers need to start listening to the experts – educators and parents – when decisions are made about our public schools.  

Closing our state’s racial and economic disparities requires real investments – a multi-billion-dollar increase in state funding for public schools – so we can provide every student with the resources they need. No exceptions. 

And St. Paul educators will demand to be heard at the local level. Budgets reflect priorities. We are with our students every day and know we need to focus first on hiring more adults who work directly with our children.  

Elected officials at all levels should be on notice. Educators are willing to take mass action to get the schools our students deserve. 

 

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