St. Paul Education Organizing Newsflash

written by: a St. Paul Public Schools Teacher

The new year is already shaping up to be a momentous one for education organizing in St Paul. In the past month St Paul has seen a charter school vote to unionize and the executive board of the St Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT) call for a vote to strike. Classroom Struggle hopes to have longer articles on each of these developments up soon so stay tuned, but we keep you informed with these two brief newsflashes.

German Immersion Votes to Become Minnesota’s Only Unionized Charter School

On January 14th the Twin Cities German Immersion School became Minnesota’s only unionized charter when 80% of the school’s 25 teachers voted to unionize. Charter school teachers often have to contend with less job security and worse pay and working conditions than unionized public school employees. Teachers at the German Immersion school are hopeful that unionization will bring greater job security, (they currently have at will contracts) as well as improved working conditions for teachers and students.

This is a huge step for the future of education in the Twin Cities. If charter schools are held to the same labor standards as other schools it will unhook them from the union busting role they are serving for so called “reformers”. Having rights like job security also allows teachers to more meaningfully build with students and parents, while being in a union could open doors for collaboration and bottom-up reforms. Improving conditions in charter schools will also surely reduce their higher than typical staff turnover, a benefit for the students and communities they serve. Given the density of unionized teachers in education we surely have the power to create common industrial standards that improve our schools for our kids.

Solidarity with St Paul Teachers and Communities! Executive Board Calls for a Strike Vote 

On the evening of February 10th the Executive Board of the St Paul Federation of Teachers voted to call for a vote to strike.  SPFT has been in negotiation with the St Paul school district for 9 months but the two parties have yet to arrive at a satisfactory contract. SPFT’s contract proposals are outlined in the union’s publication The Schools St. Paul Children Deserve, a wonderful document that lays out the vision St Paul educators and families have for an improved public school system. SPFT’s central contract proposals include:

  • smaller class sizes– the union wants class size caps so teachers are better able to individualize instruction, build relationships, and meet the needs of all students
  • education for the whole child– in the form of more school nurses, counselors, social workers and librarians. The ratios of students to these vital staff members in the district are appalling. For example, there are 1,286 students for every 1 elementary school counselor, and there are 3, 369 students for every 1 SPPS librarian
  • less standardized testing
  • more comprehensive, quality, and culturally relevant curriculum
  • increased access to pre-K– SPFT wants to expand the districts pre-K program so more students and families have access to quality early childhood education

The mood was somber but resolved at the SPFT meeting on Monday when executive board members voted unanimously to call for a vote to strike. Teachers spoke to the fact that the expectations and results that teachers are expected to achieve in the classroom have increased exponentially in the past few years while supports and resources like counselors and social workers have disappeared. Many teachers voiced their frustration at district administration statements that issues such as class size, staffing, curriculum and access to pre-K are managerial decisions that the union doesn’t have the authority to be involved in, while teachers, students and parents are directly affected by these decisions each day. There was a strong sense in the room that collective action must be taken by St Paul staff to fight for the learning conditions and outcomes that St Paul students, family and staff deserve.  

Building with parents, students, and communities and including their demands in contract negotiations is a lesson worth learning from, and we hope educators around the Twin Cities, and country, take notice. Creating common frameworks for the changes our schools needs moves us a step closer towards creating the student, parent, educator mass movement needed to transform them into powerful bases for creating a just, anti-racist, and free society. 

Here are important dates and actions to be aware of in SPFT negotiations:

  • February 18th- SPFT Rally for the Schools Our Children Deserve to support the teachers’ contract struggle at the St Paul District office. 360 Colborne, 5pm
  • February 21st, 22nd, 23rd- Strike information meetings held by SPFT
  • February 20th and March 6th- The next negotiation dates between SPFT and the district

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