St. Paul teachers deal leaves much of union's wish list unfulfilled
Last Updated by
St. Paul teachers' new tentative contract agreement, the details of which were released Thursday afternoon, would increase support staffing for some students and boost teacher wages, but it leaves many of the demands union leaders pushed for at the bargaining table unfulfilled.
Teachers nearly walked off the job this week in an attempt to lower class sizes, guarantee funding for alternative discipline programs and increase the ranks of non-teacher staff including social workers, nurses and counselors.
The two-year tentative agreement that union and district leaders reached Monday gives teachers a one percent pay increase each year on top of scheduled raises for years of experience and education.
District and union leaders agreed those raises will only apply to the second half of this year, rather than the entire year. That move saved the district just over $1 million, according to district human resources director Laurin Cathey. With the savings, district leaders agreed to add 30 teachers for students learning English. The contract agreement would also add 23 paraprofessionals for special education students.
The agreement does not include the lowered limits on class sizes teachers had sought. Instead, it would raise allowable average sizes for middle and high school classes while setting an upper limit on the number of students in any one class.
St. Paul teachers' union members are scheduled to vote on the tentative contract agreement Feb. 22. The St. Paul school board would then vote on the agreement in March.
Cathey said the entire agreement stayed within the district's budget of just over $2 million a year in added costs.
That budget constraint continually clashed with teacher demands during negotiations and nearly led to a strike Tuesday.
The most expensive parts of teachers' proposals were not the classic bargaining items of wages and benefits, but rather demands on class size and support staffing, according to a cost breakdown the school district posted early in negotiations.
Union president Nick Faber said teachers aren't done fighting for those issues. Still, Faber said teachers intend to work with district officials instead of waiting for another confrontation at the bargaining table.
"We have to get to a place where we're not doing the same thing every two years in the exact same way and expecting different outcomes," Faber said.
The agreement includes a plan to seek more money from local corporations. During negotiations union leaders also pushed the district to place a tax referendum on the November ballot. Faber said teachers plan to launch a recruiting campaign to increase St. Paul schools' enrollment, which would increase revenue from the state.
"I think next time if we are able to partner on ways of creating more resources, we should see a less aggressive negotiations process," the district's Cathey said.
Whether or not that happens will depend on all sides — union leaders, district officials and individual teachers' union members.
After narrowly averting a strike, at least one union member is re-evaluating the tactics that led St. Paul teachers to that point. Roy Magnuson said he resigned from the union's executive board in September in part because he thought leadership was being too aggressive.
"There is no doubt that our leadership is correct when they say that schools are underfunded. The question for many of us was ... is St. Paul Federation of Teachers unilaterally going out on strike going to change the underfunding?" said Magnuson, who teaches social studies at Como Park Senior High School. He added that a confrontational, "us versus them" style can prevent cooperation.
Faber said "the next few months will tell" how well union and district leaders can work together. Faber said he believes coming to the brink of a strike was effective, although he hopes the strategy is not needed in the future.
"If we're going to do the same thing time after time and just fold and say, 'That's ok,' nothing was going to change," Faber