Wage and salary increases, an increase in mental health staff, maintaining the cap on class sizes and a one-time payment of $3,000 for teachers who continued to work throughout the pandemic are included in the new two-year contract between the Saint Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) and the Saint Paul Public Schools. The 4,000-member teachers’ union voted overwhelmingly on March 16 to ratify the agreement and avoid a second teachers’ strike in as many years in Saint Paul.

Federation president Leah VanDassor called the agreement “pretty solid” prior to the union’s vote, though she said she would have liked a larger hourly wage increase for educational support professionals. As it is, educational assistants (EAs) will receive an average 13.5 percent increase in their hourly wages.


teachers strike
Members of the Saint Paul Federation of Educators demonstrated outside Highland Park Middle School during the first day of the teachers' strike back in March of 2020. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Teachers and school and community service professionals got a 2 percent salary increase in each of the two years. The contract increases the employer contribution for health insurance coverage and the employer match on 403b plans. It also provides for the hiring of six additional school psychologists at a cost of $650,000.

Saint Paul Superintendent Joe Gothard declined to answer any questions from MyVillager about the contract. However, in a statement on the district’s website, Gothard described the agreement as “fair” and “equitable. Our staff, students, families and administrators all want Saint Paul Public Schools to be the best district it can be, and the only way we can do that is by working together,” Gothard wrote.

“(School district negotiators) had come to the table with a lot of removal language,” VanDassor said. “For teachers, there was a lot of defending of what we already had (in the previous two-year contract).”

The new contract maintains most of the caps on class sizes. However, it lowers the maximum class size in grades 1-3 from 28 to 27 (or from 26 to 25 in high-poverty schools) and in grade 9 from 37 to 36 (or 35 in high-poverty schools). It also continues to guarantee recess time for students.

The new contract comes as the district is projecting a nearly $43 million deficit for the 2022-23 school year, driven in part by a projected drop of roughly 1,900 students from the 33,365 students enrolled in the district this year

The new contract comes as the district is projecting a nearly $43 million deficit for the 2022-23 school year, driven in part by a projected drop of roughly 1,900 students from the 33,365 students enrolled in the district this year

The Saint Paul School Board is expected to vote on the contract April 19. If approved by the board, the contract will be good through June 2023. The school district had not released the total cost of the new contract before press time, but prior to the agreement with the teachers it had projected wage increases for SPFE employees to total around $12.6 million. The money for the one-time payments of $3,000 is coming from the federal American Rescue Plan fund.

School Board chair Jim Vue was relieved that a strike was avoided. A teachers’ strike like the one this month in the Minneapolis Public Schools would have been counterproductive, he said.

That is a sentiment shared by the Minnesota Parent Union. Rashad Turner, president of the Parent Union, could not be reached for comment, but prior to the agreement in Saint Paul the Parent Union stated: “Parents and community leaders are frustrated with the (teachers’) unions’ repeated attempts to overlook the outcomes our kids are getting in both the Saint Paul Public Schools and Minneapolis Public Schools.”

VanDassor acknowledged that teachers strikes are difficult for all involved, but insisted that the caps on class sizes would have been worth the fight. “Not having class size limits in place, especially at the secondary level, is something a lot of parents haven’t experienced,” VanDassor said. “We have to have (manageable class sizes). It’s important for all our families to have that relationship with teachers.”

Vue and VanDassor agreed that the success of the recent round of negotiations may be a sign of better things to come. They said it gave them hope that negotiations on the next teachers’ contract will not be as acrimonious.

— Casey Ek


The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.


house ad