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Minneapolis teachers end strike with tentative deal

Educators and officials in the Minneapolis school district reached a tentative agreement Friday morning to end a teachers’ strike and resolve a nearly three-week standoff that has left classrooms closed for about 30,000 public school students.

The teachers union said members are expected to vote on the agreement this weekend. If approved, students could be back in school as early as Monday.

Few details of the agreement were released, but the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Educational Support Professionals said in a statement, “It’s important to note that major advances have been made in paying education support professionals, protecting educators of color and class sizes became caps and support for mental health.”

The teachers’ strike that began March 8, in which many parents fought over child care, was the district’s first in more than 50 years.

In California, a teachers’ strike continues in Sacramento, where the public school district serves more than 40,000 students in kindergarten through high school.

David Fisher, who runs the Sacramento City Teachers Association, said Friday that a staffing crisis in the district was difficult to manage. “In some schools, some days it’s difficult to run the schools at all because there are so few adults on campus,” he said.

In Minneapolis, negotiations between the union and the district — over salaries, hiring and retention practices, and student mental health resources — often went late into the night. Pointing to budget surpluses in Minnesota, the teachers’ union said money and power in the district were being concentrated at the top while educators struggled to do more with less.

The district has argued that its income would not be enough to cover additional expenses, in part due to falling enrollment, rising costs, and decades of underfunding. Enrollments in the city’s public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade fell to just under 30,000 at the start of this school year, compared to nearly 33,600 in the fall of 2019.

Ed Graff, the superintendent, said Friday more information about the deal would be shared once details were finalized.

“Families wanted their children to go back to school and that was the top priority,” he said. “They had definitely experienced enough disruption from the pandemic.” In January, students in Minneapolis attended classes remotely for two weeks due to staff shortages related to the coronavirus.

Shaun Laden, who heads the branch of the union that represents education support professionals, said it was likely the school day would lengthen slightly and the school year would be extended by a week or more to make up for lost time.

He added that while some details of the deal are not yet finalized, it is about strengthening job protections for hundreds of black employees and “significantly increasing salaries for education support professionals.” He said some positions where workers once started out with salaries of about $24,000 would now bring in a little closer to $35,000 by the employee’s sophomore year.

“We’ve been saying all along that it’s not just about the amount of money our district has,” Mr. Laden added, “but how we use it.”

Lesley Lavery, associate professor of political science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and author of “A Collective Pursuit: Teachers’ Unions and Education Reform,” said the Minneapolis strike was an example of bargaining for the common good, what blurring the lines between economic, political and environmental demands – for example, by demanding not only better pay, but also smaller classes and better mental health support for students.

“It’s about the whole package,” she said. “I think we’ll see more districts start doing it.”

However, Professor Lavery added that wages are likely to remain a major sticking point in education labor disputes in the United States, as low wages continue to make it difficult for school districts to compete with other employers.

“In many states, teacher salaries have not reached pre-recession levels of 2008,” she said. “We’ve just had another recession and I think that helped. We could see more of that.”

When the Omicron variant led to a spike in Covid cases earlier this year, teachers’ unions across the United States raised concerns about understaffing due to illness and shortages of testing and masks. In Chicago, home of the nation’s third-largest school district, a week of classes was canceled after members of the teachers’ union argued the classrooms were unsafe. Schools reopened after a deal was announced on January 10.

Nikki Milevsky, a vice president of the teachers’ union on strike in Sacramento, commended the Minneapolis union for securing staff contracts and better mental health support systems for local students.

“That’s what we dream of here at SCTA,” she said. “We’re really proud of them.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/25/us/minneapolis-teachers-strike.html Minneapolis teachers end strike with tentative deal

Ethan Gach

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