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St. Paul educators to vote Feb. 17 on whether to strike

In a meeting on Thursday, the St. Paul Federation of Educators set a strike vote for Feb. 17, but that vote does not mean the union will definitely walk off the job.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Educators will vote on Thursday, Feb. 17, over whether to authorize a strike against St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS).

The executive board for the Saint Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) set the strike authorization vote during a meeting Thursday night for all three bargaining groups – teachers, educational assistants, and school and community service professionals - according to a news release.

The SPFE says the top priorities in contract negotiations with SPPS include lowering class sizes, adding additional educators to work with students who have special needs, having a fully staffed mental health team in every building and spending more money to attract and retain teachers and support staff.  

"Now more than ever, our students deserve more. More counselors and social workers to address growing mental health concerns. Smaller class sizes so they can get more individualized attention and build stronger relationships. And their educators deserve a reasonable raise because we can't afford to lose more great teachers and support staff to other professions," said Leah VanDassor, president of the Saint Paul Federation of Educators, in a news release.

Thursday's vote does not necessarily mean there will be a strike. Even if teachers and other educators approve a strike, SPFE would still need to decide that a strike was necessary, set a date and notify the district, according to the release. State law requires the union to give the school district at least 10 days notice before the first day of a strike. 

State law also requires Minnesota school districts and unionized employees to bargain every two years.

The district superintendent, Dr. Joe Gothard, said the changes SPFE is asking for aren't within the budget.

"The district can't spend more money than it takes in," said Gothard, at the Friday press conference. He pointed to changes they've already made, such as increasing the ration between counselors and social workers, to the student population.

In the 2018-2019, SPPS had one counselor for every 345 students. Gothard said in this school year, it's one counselor to every 230 students.

"The most recent two-year contract with SPFE expired on July 1, 2021. During the term of that contract, SPPS invested heavily in school support staff," Gothard said. "Those investments are paying off for our students."

VanDassor acknowledges the district has improved but says it's not enough. 

"It's a great start, and we need more," she said. "Especially right now, still working through this pandemic and all the different types of trauma and mental health needs that our families are going through right now. Some people would say that's not the job of the school to take care of, but that's where we see the students."

The last time St. Paul teachers went on strike was in 2020, and the work stoppage lasted for three days.

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