Teachers on strike in St. Paul
March 11, 2020
The Saint Paul public school district canceled all K-12 classes on Tuesday, March 10, as teachers and other faculty began their first union strike since 1946.
Approximately 36,000 students were excused from the school day. Churches, community buildings and a few schools remained open for students that need breakfast and lunch, as well as childcare for younger students. School is also canceled for Wednesday, March 11, and all consecutive days until an agreement with the union and school district is made.
According to the Star Tribune, the last Saint Paul strike was in November 1946. More than 1,000 staff members strike for smaller class sizes, higher wages, and building upgrades. The school union won the strike, and made national news, paving the path as one of the first school unions to strike and win.
Today, the St. Paul Federation of Educators are asking the district board for three things; higher wages for teachers, more mental health professionals including psychologists, social workers and behavioral specialists, and a bilingual staff that can accommodate the multitude of English Language Learners (ELL) within the district, one of the largest ELL populations in the Minnesota education system.
In 2018, a school district referendum passed, meaning citizens voted to increase school funding. This funding was intended to increase mental health support, implement a strategic plan for student success and limit future budget cuts. However, the mental health and counseling departments in Saint Paul schools continue to disappoint staff, students and faculty. The discussions between the St. Paul Federation of Educators and the St. Paul District has lasted for over nine months, and continued till 3 a.m. on Tuesday night, reaching no agreement.
During their late night discussion, the superintendent, Joe Gothard, requested for arbitration instead of displacing the students from their classrooms, meaning the two groups would submit the dispute to arbitrator who would then make the final decision. However, this request was denied and the teachers continued their plan to strike. Tuesday, March 10, and Wednesday, March 11, are currently canceled, however this cancellation is likely to be extended.
Through the Falcon Tutors program, University of Wisconsin-River Falls education students complete a field experience through Washington Technology Magnet school and LIFE prep academy, two schools in the Saint Paul school district. The UW-River Falls students that attend the field experience on Tuesday and Wednesday had the day off this week, however an alternative school district is likely to welcome the tutors if the strike continues.
It is not clear how long the strike will go. However, it is clear that the strike and disagreement puts stress on faculty, union members, the school board, parents and the students.