With the St. Paul teachers union one step closer to a strike, many families are wondering what such an action would mean for them and their students.
Their contracts expired last summer, but the union and the district haven't been able to find common ground on several sticking points. On Tuesday afternoon, district representatives held a press conference to share their concerns about a strike.
After union leaders voted Monday night to call an estimated 3,200 members to vote on a possible strike, district officials made it quite clear that they were extremely disappointed in the decision. The district argues that a strike would delay student education and could even lead to an extension of the school year.
Additionally, district officials say the 2,500 non-union employees would be out of work and out of pay for the duration of the strike since the district intends to cancel all classes and close all buildings if a strike begins.
Yet, while district officials argue that students will suffer amid a strike, union representatives say they already are being negatively affected by several issues currently under negotiation, such as class sizes.
"Teachers feel it's necessary to put more pressure on to make progress on these issues," Nick Farber, with the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, said. "Students are suffering right now."
Meanwhile, district representatives say they are still willing to work on those issues and are scheduling additional negotiation meetings in the hopes of finding a resolution prior to the Feb. 24 vote.
"If it takes us to be working weekends, midnight, we're here to get this resolved," St. Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva said. "I do not want my kids not coming to school, not being able to get educated. For many of our students, we are the only meal -- breakfast, lunch and snack -- they're able to get a day. That's something our kids deserve."
According to district officials, space and funding are their key obstacles to making smaller class sizes a reality, but there are other unresolved issues as well. So far, tentative agreements have been reached on 13 of the 27 proposals on the negotiating table.
The previous teacher contract expired nearly 9 months ago, and Education Minnesota released figures in January that showed teachers in at least half of the districts in the state were working without settled contracts. In part, that trend can be traced to the 2011 Legislature, which repealed the traditional Jan. 15 deadline to settle Minnesota teacher contracts.
Normally, teacher contracts are negotiated every two years. If the deadline had been in effect this year, the due date would have fallen at midnight Jan. 17 because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
SCHOOL BOARD UNVEILS STRIKE RESOLUTION
Also on Tuesday, the school board committee approved a motion to vote on a list of guidelines the district could follow if a strike occurs. The full school board will decide whether or not to adopt it as policy at the regular board meeting scheduled for next week.
The full text of the resolution can be found in below:
BE IT RESOLVED, that Saint Paul Public Schools (hereinafter "School District" or "SPPS") is committed to sound collective bargaining principles and practices to resolve differences to the mutual satisfaction of the parties and avert, to the greatest extent possible, work actions such as strikes. However, recognizing that a work action is the ultimate exercise of bargaining power unions may employ as an economic sanction against the School District in the event bargaining demands cannot be satisfied, the School District must therefore take responsible precautions to ensure necessary public services will be provided in the event such action is employed.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in the event of a strike by the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, the Superintendent of Schools or her designee, will exercise the following powers, to include but not be limited to the following:
1. Temporarily assign and reassign personnel as needed.
2. Temporarily close school, close buildings, cancel programs or cancel activities when deemed to be in the best interests of the School District.
3. Take such other temporary emergency steps as deemed necessary for business activities and for the safety of students, staff and property.
4. Advise all employees of their rights and responsibilities during a strike and the School District's rules regarding striking employees.
5. Take such actions as necessary to lay-off non-essential employees.
6. Determine essential employees, excluding members of the teacher bargaining unit, that must report to work during the strike.
7. Amend the school calendar to make up lost instructional time.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that in the event of a strike action against SPPS, the following will apply uniformly and consistently in accordance with state laws to all teachers who engage or participate in such strike action, for the duration of the strike:
8. Teachers who are absent from any portion of his/her work assignment without permission of the appropriate Supervisor on the date or dates when a strike occurs will be presumed to have engaged in a strike on such date or dates and will not be permitted to return to work until the conclusion of the strike.
9. No striking employee will be paid wages or benefits. For wages due prior to the commencement of the strike, SPPS will issue a paycheck on the next regularly scheduled payday.
10. SPPS will discontinue contribution to all group insurance coverage for striking employees to the extent provided by law. Such employees will be notified by letter how they may continue to maintain group coverage.
11. No striking employee will receive personal day pay.
12. No striking employee will be granted sick leave.
13. No striking employee will be eligible for any type of leave, including attendance at conferences and conventions.
14. No striking employee will receive service credit for benefit accrual purposes.
15. Any school district employee who takes part in the strike must return all School District property, including but not limited to computers, laptops and badges.
16. An employee participating in a strike is not allowed to take part in any other SPPS work assignments for the duration of the strike, whether full-time, part-time, or on a volunteer basis.
17. Striking employees will not be allowed to use SPPS facilities for the duration of the strike.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board of Education and the Superintendent will designate a spokesperson(s) authorized to speak publicly on behalf of the School District in regard to labor disputes in which a strike has commenced or is imminent.
Further, the Superintendent will report all action taken in accordance with this resolution to the School Board at the earliest opportunity.