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Raises, Bonuses, Layoffs — After 3 Weeks, Minneapolis Teachers Union, District Settle the First Strike in 50 Years

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers / Facebook
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Minneapolis Public Schools students will return to class Tuesday, March 29, three weeks after teachers and educational assistants went on strike. A contract approved over the weekend by members of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers ends the city’s first teacher strike in half a century. 

Because the district’s nearly 28,000 students have been out of class for 15 days, the school day will be extended by 42 minutes starting April 11, right after spring break, and two weeks will be added to the school year to make up for missed instructional time mandated by state law. 

“This is a historic day,” union President Greta Callahan said Friday outside district headquarters. “We know that we have historic wins.”

 

Hours earlier, Superintendent Ed Graff and school board Chair Kim Ellison spoke at a news conference. “The days have run together into months and weekends,” Graff said. “I am just grateful we are able to get back together in the end.”

While the union’s teacher and educational support professionals are covered by separate contracts, the two chapters walked out together March 8. Chief among their joint demands was a pay increase for most paraprofessionals to a minimum of $35,000 a year, as well as a 20% hike in teacher pay in the contract’s first year and 5% in the second. 

But after district administrators balked at using finite stimulus funds to boost the permanent pay scale, union leaders asked for bonuses instead. Each teacher will receive $4,000 in April, a 2% raise in the contract’s first year and 3% in its second. 

Members of the union’s Educational Support Professionals chapter will receive raises, plus $6,000 in bonuses spread over two years, with an additional $1,000 for those with 10 or more years on the job. Because of temporary increases in hours available until the end of the two-year contract in 2023, a “significant number” will be able to reach $35,000 a year, union leaders say. 

Shaun Laden, president of the support professionals union, said the increased hours and bonuses would allow the district to tap the stimulus funds. District leaders have not yet said how much the settlement will cost or whether they will use recovery money to pay for it.      

District leaders project a $21.5 million shortfall for the 2022-23 fiscal year — a gap that would be much larger had they not earmarked half of the $260 million in federal pandemic recovery aid to avoid laying off teachers and closing school buildings after years of precipitous enrollment declines.

Researchers and school finance experts have warned that using one-time infusions of federal funds in this way will create a steep “fiscal cliff” in 2024, when the money runs out. In the days before the settlement, Ellison warned that increasing pay for paraprofessionals would necessitate $10 million in cuts elsewhere. 

In neighboring St. Paul Public Schools, which is facing similar tensions over enrollment losses, board members recently voted to close and consolidate a number of schools and have budgeted the lion’s share of their stimulus funds for addressing student learning. 

District leaders declined to answer questions before the union vote on the contract, which took place over the weekend, but posted video of a news conference to their website. They have not yet said whether the one-time spending outlined in the contract will come from the remaining stimulus funding and how much will now be diverted from other uses. 

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2020-21 school year, the district employed some 2,155 teachers and almost 1,000 instructional aides. Leaders of the union say they have 4,500 members. 

Tensions roiled the community during the strike. For months, the district and unions traded proposals to protect teachers of color from ongoing, disproportionate vulnerability to layoffs and changes in assignments. The two sides had differed on how broad to make any exception to “last in, first out” seniority rules. 

Because of a deadline in state law, the week before the strike began, the district announced that some 50 teachers of color were among those who had been excessed — lost their current postings — because of possible layoffs for the 2022-23 school year. The following day, according to the local news outlet Southwest Voices, the union withdrew its layoff-protection proposal. 

In the days leading up to the settlement announcement, a number of teachers of color and the local chapter of the NAACP expressed frustration, and the union’s offer regarding the protections was reintroduced. 

The provision approved along with the new contract protects teachers from “underrepresented populations” but does not apply to as many as 50 teachers just excessed for the 2022-23 academic year. Callahan called the new protections “nation-leading.”

While community support for the strikers ran high, many families expressed concern that students had very little in-person instruction between March 2020 and the start of the current academic year and again lost classroom time in January, when the Omicron variant surged. 

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