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St. Paul teachers ratify new agreement

Members of the Saint Paul (Minn.) Federation of Teachers on March 4 voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract agreement with the school district after a groundbreaking bargaining process in which parents and other community members joined with teachers to set priorities for their schools.

"I am inspired by the way SPFT educators, parents, students and community members advocated together," says SPFT President Mary Cathryn Ricker, who is an AFT vice president. "I am also grateful for the commitment of our bargaining team, the district's bargaining team and the Board of Education to making progress for the schools our students deserve."

The agreement was reached Feb. 21 after a marathon 23-hour mediation session and averted a strike authorization vote by members that had been scheduled for Feb. 24. 

The teacher contract boasts several key provisions including:

  • the means for ensuring consistency and predictability in class sizes;
  • hiring more nurses, media specialists, counselors and social workers;
  • an appropriate role and higher quality of standardized student assessments, with a reduction of learning time diverted to testing and test preparation;
  • maintenance and expansion of high-quality early learning opportunities; and
  • continued and expanded opportunities for parent and community involvement.
St. Paul Festival

It also addresses several other issues, such as school redesign, National Board Certification, positive behavior and intervention supports for students, and increased support for professional development especially for new teachers.

"Though this has been a long and difficult process, both parties learned just how passionate we both are about the education of St. Paul's students," says St. Paul superintendent Valeria Silva. "I'm pleased that this tentative agreement strengthens the partnership between the school district and our teachers."

Although issues such as class size, assessment and professional staffing levels–priorities developed by the union and community together—were what led the SPFT to the brink of a strike, the union did gain some economic improvements, as well. Teachers will receive their normal step increases and the same school district contribution toward health insurance, and they will receive a 2.25 percent raise in the first year and 2 percent the second year, with an additional increase for veteran teachers.

Before the union even started negotiations with the school district, it asked parents and community stakeholders to work with educators to develop a comprehensive vision to ensure equity and excellence for all students. Many of those ideas were incorporated into the union's bargaining proposals.

Educational assistants in St. Paul are currently negotiating a separate contract. Key issues include developing a pathway to a teaching license, expanding professional development opportunities, ensuring a respectful workplace and addressing staffing levels. They expect to wrap up negotiations soon.

[Saint Paul Federation of Teachers, Dan Gursky, Tom Lansworth/SPFT photo]

February 25, 2014