On Monday night, the executive board of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers announced it is calling for a members to vote on whether or not to strike amid ongoing contract negotiations with St. Paul Public Schools.
Within an hour of concluding a nearly 3-hour meeting, the union announced online that the 3,200 members will vote on whether or not to strike on Feb. 24. A time and date have yet to be determined.
According to an internal e-mail from St. Paul Public School District that can be read in full below, district officials confirmed that if the union does elect to strike, classes would be canceled at all St. Paul Public schools throughout the duration of the strike.
Parents with children attending school in the district told Fox 9 News they plan to support the teachers as the union continues to negotiate on a variety of topics ranging from class size to moving away from standardized testing.
"Without a strong school system and parents who are behind the teachers, we don't' have anything" said Kathlynn Kinsey. "I moved here from out of state for the school system because it was so fantastic. I still think it's a fantastic school system. I will do whatever it takes to support the teachers."
WHAT COMES NEXT?
Before the Feb. 24 vote, several informational meetings will be held at the Carpenters Hall, located at 700 Olive Street. Seven meetings have already been set for the following dates and times:
1. Friday, Feb. 21 starting at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
2. Saturday, Feb. 22 starting 9 a.m., noon and 3 p.m.
3. Sunday, Feb. 23, starting at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Links will be made available for members to register for a session, and union members also plan to be in red at the Committee of the Board Meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 11.
Members and community supporters also intend to attend the school board meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
As for the vote itself, that will take place at one location and only union members will be able to participate after their membership is verified. If a majority of members cast votes in favor of a strike, then the executive board may call one.
If a strike is approved, each school will put together a strike committee to make plans and the union plans to create a headquarters where materials and additional meetings or training sessions could be held.
However, it is important to note that those actions won't be immediate. The union must give 10 days of notice prior to beginning a strike. That means the strike could officially begin at any time in the 15 days following the 10-day notice.
In the interim, the bargaining team continues to work toward a mutual agreement with the district. Union officials confirmed that any tentative agreement would halt the strike process.
AT THE NEGOTIATING TABLE
The union and the district have been unable to come to an agreement on numerous proposals that both sides acknowledge as important while differing on how to fund and implement them. Some of the items on the negotiating table include:
- Capping class sizes
- Hiring additional counselors
- Moving away from standardized tests
Despite eight months of talks, the groups also have no agreement on wages and benefits. Teacher contracts expired last summer, and the eight months since have not yielded an agreement.
"I don't believe the teachers want to go on strike," Hamline University Labor Law Professor David Larson said. "I believe they would not go on strike unless they really believe it's a really important matter."
The last time St. Paul's teachers went on strike was in 1946, but Larson believes they may do so again now after seeing the success of the teacher strike in Chicago in 2012. However, as a parent of a child in the St. Paul public school system, Larson hopes it won't come to that.
"I encourage everyone to take a breath, slow down a little," he said. "I don't think the best result in any sense is actually going to a strike."
STATEMENT FROM ST. PAUL PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Shortly after news of the impending vote broke, Toya Stewart Downey released a candid statement on behalf of the district that can be read in full below:
"We were extremely disappointed to learn that the leadership of the teachers union has decided to schedule a vote on whether to strike. This is not the news we were hoping for.
"Despite today's decision, we intend to continue negotiating with the teachers union with the intent of reaching an agreement. We look forward to the scheduled mediation sessions on Feb. 20 and March 6.
"If the teachers do decide to strike it will impact the lives of tens of thousands of children, as well as their families, for an undetermined amount of time and in ways we can't even begin to quantify.
"Any day lost, particularly after we lost five full classroom days in January due to cold weather, could prove detrimental to many SPPS students.
"While Saint Paul Public Schools believes a strike would be a poor choice for the education needs of St. Paul's children, the teachers union has the lawful right to strike. We respect that right, but strongly disagree that issues between SPPS and teachers union that should lead to a call for strike.
"Our goal has been and remains to work together with the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers to offer a premier education for all through the District's strategic plan, Strong Schools, Strong Communities. It is unfortunate that the leadership of the teachers union sees things differently.
"Saint Paul Public Schools will continue to do its very best on behalf of the children who depend on us."
As you may have seen in news reports this past weekend, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers Executive Team has begun a process to ask its 3,200 members if they support a strike. On Monday, a union leadership meeting will be held to discuss the possibility of scheduling a strike vote.
The primary goal in contract negotiations with the teachers' union is to agree on a contract that will be fair to St. Paul's talented and hard-working teachers, and that will allow our school district to effectively manage within its limited financial resources.
Hopefully you have had the chance to visit our SPPS negotiations website, spps.org/workingtogether, which outlines the progress we've made to date – including tentative agreements on 13 of 27 remaining union proposals. Agreements have not yet been reached about class size, testing requirements, school support staff, and teacher wages and benefits.
You should know that if the teacher's union chooses to strike, classes will be canceled for all Saint Paul Public School students for the unknown duration of the strike.
Before we reach that point, our district negotiators will continue to meet with union leadership at the negotiations table in an effort to secure a signed contract that will ensure our teachers have the resources they need to provide our students with the premier education we have promised them.
Many of the proposals the teachers' union has brought forward during negotiations absolutely deserve attention, either at the negotiations table or another acceptable venue. At the same time, as stewards of your tax dollars, district leadership must balance the $150 million those proposals cost against other worthy efforts to make our schools stronger.
Stay warm this week as we continue to face an unseasonably cold February.
Your very proud superintendent,
Valeria S. Silva