St. Paul educators balk at district’s demand for concessions

Educators line the sidewalk outside St. Anthony Park Elementary during a walk-in event highlighting their union’s student-centered contract priorities.

Less than two years after their historic strike drew thousands of supporters into the streets, St. Paul educators are back at the bargaining table, looking to defend and build on gains made in their last contract.

This morning educators were back outside their school buildings, too, showing unity and support for the student-centered priorities guiding their union in talks with the district.

“The students should always come first – always,” second-grade teacher Ruth Krider said before a “walk-in” event at St. Anthony Park Elementary.

That means keeping class sizes small, staffing mental health teams at every school, hiring and retaining more bilingual educators and educators of color, and providing more support and resources to special education teachers.

The St. Paul Federation of Educators calls it building the “schools St. Paul students deserve,” and educators have fought hard in recent rounds of bargaining to write benchmarks for student services into their union contract. An agreement to expand students’ access to mental-health supports was key to settling the strike in March 2020.

But union members say the district set out this year to take back many of those gains, including limits on class sizes and the hard-fought language around mental health. One proposal to eliminate a guarantee that students have access to recess time sparked a new chant outside St. Anthony Park this morning: “What do we want? Recess! When do we want it? Now!”

The district is demanding concessions from educators despite receiving over $200 million in American Rescue Plan funds.

Krider called it “disheartening” to see that kind of posturing from the district, particularly during a school year that many educators have described as their most difficult. In St. Paul, looming school closures have only added to the stress of teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It feels like things are coming at us from all sides,” Krider said. “With negotiations on top of all that, it would be nice to feel like we could be trusted by the district, but staff are not being listened to.

“We feel like we’re moving backwards, almost. We fought hard, we had some gains, and now we’re feeling like we have to redo the whole thing.”

But SPFE members aren’t shying away from another fight with the district.

Yesterday, a delegation of educators presented Superintendent Joe Gothard with a petition signed by 75% of members supporting the union’s contract proposals. And today’s “walk-in” events, in which educators enter school alongside the students at the center of their bargaining priorities, took place across the city.

Supporters can sign onto the petition backing educators’ bargaining proposals, and sign up for updates from the union about future public actions.

SPFE and district leaders met Tuesday in their first mediation session since the district petitioned to move talks behind closed doors.

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