MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis public school teachers hit the picket lines Tuesday, saying they were fighting to ensure the “safe and stable schools that our students deserve” and for better salaries for the lowest paid support professionals.
For many families of the 29,000 students in one of Minnesota’s largest school districts, a prolonged strike by nearly 3,300 teachers could mean a return to the struggles of balancing work and childcare they once struggled with. faced throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Molly Dengler, co-chair of the parent-teacher association at a Spanish immersion elementary school in downtown Minneapolis, said the PTA uses WhatsApp to notify parents, connect them with child care and help them organize learning groups.
They’re all hoping for a short strike, said Dengler, who has a freshman son.
“We all have real jobs” she says. For many families, “Maybe today they could call for unemployment, but it’s not sustainable to keep calling for unemployment.”
No discussion was planned.
Union leaders said district officials would not compromise on wages, especially a “living wage” for education support professionals, as well as caps on class size and more mental health services for students.
“We’re on strike for safe and stable schools, we’re on strike for systemic change, we’re on strike for our students, the future of our city, and the future of Minneapolis public schools,” Greta Callahan, president of the teachers’ chapter of the Minneapolis Teachers’ Federation, said outside a college where more than 100 union members and supporters picketed in freezing weather.
The average annual salary for teachers in Minneapolis is over $71,000. The union says that puts them among the lowest-paid districts in Minneapolis-St. Paul district. One of the main union demands is a starting salary of $35,000 for education support professionals, up from the current $24,000, which union officials say is key to hiring and retaining people of color. .
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said students and parents across the county relied on school nurses, support staff and educators to create “A situation as normal as possible” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“How do you attract black and brown teachers if you’re not paying a living wage?” said Weingarten.
Minneapolis administrators have cited a $26 million budget shortfall for next year that they say would be $97 million without one-time federal funding. The district says it lost 3,000 students during the pandemic, leading to cuts in state aid.
According to the Metropolitan School Districts Association, districts in the Twin Cities area face a combined shortfall of more than $230 million for the 2022-23 school year. He cited the costs of special education and English-learning programs, and the inability of state funding to keep pace with inflation.
In the St. Paul district, which has about 34,000 students, teachers and administrators reached a tentative agreement Monday night to avert a strike. The teachers’ union said the deal would raise salaries, maintain caps on class size and increase mental health supports.
The Minneapolis District advised parents to arrange childcare and said bagged breakfasts and lunches would be available for pickup from schools.
Suzanna and Bryan Altman plan to enroll their third-grade daughter, Annette, in a day camp that offers science and technology lessons and activities. The Altmans, who both work in technology, made it through the remote school days of Annette’s freshman and sophomore years as they worked from home and set up a mini pod with another family. They consider themselves lucky to have “lots of resources at our disposal,” including consenting grandmothers.
Mark Spurlin, who has 6-year-old twins in kindergarten at the same Sapon immersion school as Dengler, said it could be difficult to get through an indefinite strike. Daycare would cost him and his wife, Megan, about $50-60 a day per boy.
“I could take unpaid leave to stay home with the boys, but that would be hard to do,” said Spurlin, a suburban high school teacher who was at home with COVID-19 when the strike began.
Spurlin, who is black, said his first teaching job was in the Minneapolis district, but he was laid off a few years ago due to budget cuts. He said the district needs to find a way to keep teachers of color while addressing current seniority rules that disproportionately affect them.