St. Paul teachers strike for first time in over 70 years

st. paul teaachers strike
St. Paul teachers picket on the overpass near Maxfield Elementary School. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Class was cancelled for more than 36,000 students in St. Paul as teachers began an open-ended strike Tuesday with picket lines in front of dozens of schools across the city. With no new negotiations scheduled, the strike will likely continue tomorrow and possibly through the week or longer.

“We would like more resources for our students to help them be successful,” said Ellen Perrault, an ESL teacher who picketed the bridge over I-94 near Maxfield Elementary School. “That includes having mental health teams in every building, having more support for our English language learners and their families and more support for our special education students.”

The St. Paul Teachers Federation negotiated with the school district until 3 a.m. Tuesday but were unable to reach an agreement. It’s the first time the teachers have gone on strike since 1946, although they came very close over the years, including in 2013, when Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker was at the helm of the union.

Then, as now, the union is pushing for increasing resources that parents want as well as higher pay. St. Paul teachers are the second-highest paid in Minnesota, which ranks in the middle nationwide.

In this contract, the union is calling for mental health professionals in every school.

But St. Paul Public Schools is also projecting a $10 million budget shortfall, and Superintendent Joe Gothard said the district just doesn’t have enough money.

“I want to make it clear: I believe our students need and deserve additional support. That has never been in question,” Gothard said in a statement. “However, we must prioritize our spending because we have limited resources. We need to place new investments where they are needed most.”

st. paul parents
St. Paul parents Steven Coburn and Chantelle Wise say they support the teachers striking. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

St. Paul parents Steven Coburn and Chantelle Wise are supportive of the strike. They even texted their daughter’s teacher asking if they could bring bottled water or snacks to teachers during their strike.,

“They need all the supports that they’re asking for and more,” Wise said. “So it’s sad that the superintendent and the school district can’t seem to come to any kind of compromise.”

Their 14 year-old daughter, Talaya, is a student at Bridge View School and has special needs. She uses a wheelchair and has developmental delays and microcephaly, a condition in which a baby’s head size is smaller than normal.

Coburn and Wise also have an 11 year-old son with autism whom they homeschool because they say school is too overwhelming for him. They say if the schools had more teachers and support staff like the union is asking for, attending school might be an option for him.

Coburn and Wise are able to work from home, so they don’t have to worry about childcare.

For other parents, St. Paul Public Schools has opened half a dozen supervised spaces for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. They are also offering breakfast and lunch for anyone under 18 years old at no cost.