The average St. Paul Public Schools teacher salary of $75,199 was one of the highest in Minnesota last year, second only to the average pay in Edina Public Schools, according to data from the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board.
Their wages relative to their fellow Minnesota teachers may help explain why St. Paul teachers, who are set to begin a strike March 10, have focused their public demands elsewhere — on what they say is a crisis of untreated student mental health issues in schools.
The teachers have offered a lengthy list of proposals that suggest a bargaining strategy aimed at winning public support.
The 31 union proposals include a number of student-centered bargaining planks, like mental health teams in every school, smaller classes for special education instructors and a plan for school integration. But they also include a few more traditional points of contention in contract negotiations: wages and benefits.
In combining these demands, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers appears to again be employing a relatively new strategy known as “bargaining for the common good,” coined in 2014 by a Georgetown University labor conference. Under this approach, unions work with outside organizations to create proposals that extend beyond staff wages, aiming to benefit the community as a whole.
Unions in industries from public service to health care have adopted this strategy. The National Education Association — of which Minnesota’s teacher unions are members — offers trainings in bargaining for the common good.
A training document posted on the NEA website prompts labor leaders to tell members that teacher unions are working to “increase funding for education, decrease class sizes, make sure that special needs kids are getting the services they deserve, etc.”
Doing so will help win over parents and turn them into allies — both in negotiations and at the ballot box. The message, the document continues, “directly contradicts the private sector argument that educators and their unions are ‘just in it for themselves.’”
During this round of negotiations, the St. Paul teachers union is asking for a 3.4% raise for the current school year and 2% for the 2020-21 school year. St. Paul Public Schools has offered 1.5% and 2%. The union’s wage proposal would cost the district $9.6 million over two years, according to a statement from Superintendent Joe Gothard.
In national teacher salary rankings, Minnesota lands in the middle. Average pay for teachers during the 2017-18 school year was $57,782, slightly lower than the national average of $60,477.
The St. Paul Federation of Teachers voted Feb. 20 to authorize a strike, after the district and union didn’t reach a contract agreement following months of negotiations.