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Minneapolis teachers hit the picket line as schools close and strike begins

Some negotiations are ongoing, but teachers in Saint Paul Public Schools avoided a strike after reaching a tentative agreement with the district Monday night.

MINNEAPOLIS — Teachers with Minneapolis Public Schools officially began their strike Tuesday morning after the union and district failed to reach an agreement Monday night.

Minneapolis teachers, who are asking for better pay, smaller class sizes and better mental health support, among other things, began picketing at 7:30 a.m.

"We are going to be on strike and do whatever it takes to win the schools our students deserve," said Shaun Laden, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers ESP Chapter, at a press conference before picketing officially started Tuesday.

"The time is now to do what is right by our students. We cannot wait. And what we saw yesterday in St. Paul, in the settlement we're reading about, shows that a large, urban district in Minnesota can put into contract language class size caps, mental health support, and we can do better by our hourly workers."

Minneapolis Public Schools held a news conference Tuesday afternoon at the John B. Davis Education Center to update the negotiations with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and discuss the district's plans amid the ongoing strike.

Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff says the district and union are "about 100 million dollars apart" on their current proposals, before later clarifying that the union's proposals amount to $166 million more than the district currently has budgeted. They don't appear to be close to a deal at this moment.

"We can't stand this far apart. That's not going to work," Graff said. "We have all these priorities that we want to have happen, and we don't have the resources for it."

In terms of teacher wages, the union has been asking the district to pay them a salary competitive with neighboring districts. According to state data, the average teacher in Minneapolis made about $71,500 last school year, lower than neighboring districts like St. Paul ($85,000), Anoka-Hennepin ($81,000), Bloomington ($81,000) and Edina ($80,000).

"They are driving educators out of this district," Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Greta Callahan said, "and we are here to intervene."

Superintendent Graff said that that after the union initially proposed a 20-percent general wage increase in the first year of the agreement and a five-percent increase in the second year, their leaders have gradually lowered those demands to 12 percent in Year One. However, Graff said that's still too much, on top of the unions' main request that the district raise salaries for education support professionals (ESP) from $24,000 to $35,000.

"More conversations need to happen, but the only place they can happen is -- not here -- but at the negotiating table," Graff said, adding that he's open to raising hours and wages for ESPs. "But we do need to do it sooner rather than later."

Minneapolis school board chair Kim Ellison also says the district and union are still deadlocked. "We can't spend money we don't have," she said, adding that the union is making "no movement toward realistic salary proposals."

In a text message, a union representative told KARE 11 that "as long as ESPs have a living wage and teachers have competitive salaries... we're willing to move." 

RELATED: Minneapolis strike: What are teachers asking for?

Meanwhile, thousands of students are home from school until further notice. All MPS after-school activities and clubs are also canceled for the duration of the strike, but high school varsity athletics will continue.

Monday night, Callahan said the teachers union is “in the fight for strong public schools, for our cities and our students.”

In St. Paul, teachers narrowly avoided a strike after reaching a tentative agreement in their ongoing negotiations with Saint Paul Public Schools.

"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," Saint Paul Federation of Educators member and lead negotiator Erica Schatzlein said Monday night.

According to Schatzlein, the union reached an agreement with SPPS on issues around smaller class sizes and increased mental health support. More details on negotiations will be released in the coming days.

"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. "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."

RELATED: Resources for parents amid teacher strike in Minneapolis

For Families

The Minneapolis Public Schools strike will impact thousands of families. If you're in need of additional childcare during the strike, these organizations can help:

YMCA of the North

  • Services for students in kindergarten through fifth grade at the Blaisdell and North Community locations
  • Registration is required
  • $45 per day at Blaisdell, $12 per day at North Community

Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board

  • Expanding hours and activities at 10 community locations
  • Bryant Square, East Phillips, Fairview, Longfellow, Luxton, Lake Nokomis, North Commons, Northeast, Sibley and Whittier
  • Open Monday-Friday, from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

Boys and Girls Club of the Twin Cities

  • Providing food and academic activities at several area locations
  • Mt. Airy and West Side Clubs will be open from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
  • East Side Club will open from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m.

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