Both of the Twin Cities held last-ditch negotiations on March 7 between the cities and their respective teachers unions. Negotiations between Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers local 59 (MFT) broke down that evening, ultimately resulting in a strike; Saint Paul Public Schools and the Saint Paul Federation of Educators local 28 came to a tentative agreement minutes before district officials were set to cancel classes the next day.
One of the state’s largest school districts has been closed since March 8. Over thirty-thousand students enrolled in Minneapolis Public Schools are once again out of classes due to a arduous contract debate between MPS and MFT.
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers represents both teachers and Educational Support Professionals (ESP), and are striking over poor wages for both ESPs and teachers. In the last approved contract between ESPs and the districts, the starting wage for some ESPs is as low as $15.45 an hour.
Educators went on strike for a list of reasons, pay being one of them, and another being class sizes. Teachers and their union say they want class size caps included in their new contract. Liam Davis Temple, a Hamline alumni and former MPS substitute teacher, says he frequently worked in classes with well over 30 students.
“There’s tons of data around smaller class sizes lead[ing] to better learning outcomes. It’s pretty logical, [with] smaller class sizes, students have more attention from the teacher and more focus. You can tailor things more individually to students if there’s 20 students in a class versus 35, obviously,” Davis Temple said.
The district has faced immense public pressure from parents, teachers and even elected officials regarding their negotiations. School Board member Josh Pauley resigned during the strike on March 16 after a group of strikers and community activists protested outside of his home. Pauley was endorsed by MFT when he first ran in 2018. Pauley isn’t the only district leadership to leave during this period, a member of the district’s bargaining committee and the Senior Human Resources Officer Maggie Sullevin also announced her departure from the district, and will leave before the end of March.
After 14 days of striking, MPS announced early March 25 that they had reached a tentative agreement with the Union. MFT members must vote to ratify the agreement to officially end the strike, despite this MPS has announced and sent automated phone calls to families in the district announcing that school would be back starting Monday the 28. Should union members reject the agreement, the parties would be forced back to the negotiating table, teachers back to the strike line and students back home. When MPS communicated with parents that the “strike is over,” most striking Union members hadn’t seen the new contract, or understood what was in it. The Union will be educating its members on the tentative agreement over the weekend and a vote is expected to take place this weekend, there is not a clear plan for educators to return from work yet.
Regardless of if educators ratify the agreement, students in Minneapolis Public Schools will have to make up missed learning days in accordance with Minnesota State law. The district will add days to the end of the academic calendar, hold classes on previously scheduled “record keeping” days with no student instruction, and potentially extend the school day.
Members of MFT local 59 have alleged that MPS’s communication with parents about the “strike being over” and that students should expect school Monday is a Union busting tactic designed to blame the Union and teachers, should school not proceed Monday. Regardless of the intent, it certainly is confusing for students and families, and has been for the past three weeks.
This is a developing story and was reported on Sunday, March 27. For continued coverage, check the Oracle at www.hamlineoracle.com.