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Minneapolis teachers to strike Tuesday; St. Paul union reaches 'tentative agreement'

Minneapolis picketing will start Tuesday morning.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Saint Paul Federation of Educators says it has reached a "tentative agreement" in their ongoing negotiations with Saint Paul Public Schools.

In a press conference late Monday, members of the SPFE spoke about the deal.

"We are excited to stand here tonight to announce a settlement between the St. Paul Federation of Educators and St. Paul Public Schools," said SPFE educator and lead negotiator Erica Schatzlein. "Tonight we’ve made a historic settlement that gives resources to our students and our educators where they need it."

Schatzlein said the union was able to reach an agreement with SPPS on key issues, including smaller class sizes and increased mental health support. She said more details on negotiations will be available in the coming days, but the union is "excited and proud" to continue their work in St. Paul.

"In these last days and hours, we feel like we turned a corner in collaboration with the district, and we hope to see that continue," she said.

President of SPFE, Leah VanDassor, added, "We’re going to continue to build and work together to make this the best school district in Minnesota."

Saint Paul Public Schools had originally stated that classes would have been cancelled if an agreement hadn't been made by 9 p.m. Monday, but with the deadline met, the district said classes would resume Tuesday, March 8. 

RELATED: Student mental health central issue in teacher-district negotiations

"I am pleased to share that Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) and the Saint Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) have reached tentative agreements on new contracts for our teachers, educational assistants, and school and community service professionals," SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard said in a statement Monday night. "This means there will NOT be a strike and school will remain in session. Contingency strike plans, including Kid Space and community meal service, will not take place."

Gothard says more details surrounding the arrangements formed between the district and the St. Paul teachers union will be made available "in the days to come," and that the Board of Education will ultimately need to approve the agreed upon specifics. 

Meanwhile, negotiations between the Minneapolis School District and its teachers union on a new contract have failed, and a strike is set to begin Tuesday. 

In a news conference Monday evening, president of the teacher’s chapter of the Minneapolis teachers union, Greta Callahan, spoke alongside fellow bargaining members and community members, announcing the plans to begin picketing Tuesday.

“We are going on strike tomorrow for the safe and stable schools our students deserve,” Callahan said. “We have continued to do so much more with so much less…If we don’t intervene, we believe that the Minneapolis Public Schools will cease to exist.”

She went on to say the union is “in the fight for strong public schools, for our cities and our students.”

When asked if Callahan had a message for parents who might be scrambling to make arrangements for their children while the teachers strike, Callahan asked, “What about the kids?”

“We’ve been saying this for decades,” she said. “Our kids deserve better.”

Ma-Riah Roberson-Moody, co-lead for the ESP Chapter of MFT, reiterated the teachers’ demands for a new contract. She said the teachers are fighting for smaller class sizes, mental health support, competitive pay and overall systemic change.

“We make school happen every single day,” she said.

The union said its members will begin picketing at schools and other work sites at 7:30 a.m., with a rally outside the Minneapolis Public Schools Nutrition Center at 12:15 p.m.

Following the news conference, Minneapolis Public Schools sent a message to MPS families, saying all PreK-12th grade classes will be canceled "until further notice." 

Further, all MPS after-school activities and clubs have also been canceled for the duration of the strike, while high school varsity athletics will continue.

In a statement, MPS officials say the teachers' decision to strike is "disappointing" but the district will "remain at the mediation table."

"While it is disappointing to hear this news, we know our organizations’ mutual priorities are based on our deep commitment to the education of Minneapolis students," the statement read. "MPS will remain at the mediation table non-stop in an effort to reduce the length and impact of this strike."

State mediators had been trying to facilitate negotiations between administrators and union leaders in both districts. Both districts had said virtually all classes would be canceled in a strike, though some services and school sports would continue.

"At this point, the district is not even pretending to avoid a strike," the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals said in a statement earlier Monday. "District negotiators are ideologically committed to the status quo and have shown that this is more about retaining their power than doing what is right for our students in our city. We are here to create systemic change and refuse to accept anything less.”

Minneapolis school administrators, in a public statement Saturday night, indicated that the sides were still divided on budget and cost issues, and on proposals for teacher diversity.

Minneapolis has about 29,000 students and 3,265 teachers, while St. Paul has roughly 34,000 pupils and 3,250 educators. The average annual salary for St. Paul teachers is more than $85,000, while it's more than $71,000 in Minneapolis. However, the districts also employ hundreds of lower-paid support staffers who often say they don’t earn a living wage, and those workers have been a major focus of the talks.

The Office of Governor Tim Walz issued a statement saying, "As a parent and former teacher himself, Governor Walz recognizes the challenges that students, teachers, and parents are facing. The Governor has consistently advocated for increases to education funding that have been dismissed by Senate Republicans – his current education proposal is stalled in the Legislature. He continues to urge both sides to stay at the table and negotiate in good faith and come to a strong agreement for students."

Local community and government organizations have made a number of resources available for parents amid Minneapolis' planned teachers strike. 

We've compiled a list of some, here.

RELATED: Strike deadline approaching: What are metro teachers asking for?

Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed from Minneapolis.

This is a developing story. More details will be added as they become available. 

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