Contract details: Striking St. Paul teachers get $4.7M for mental health staff, twice that for wage hikes
Saint Paul Pioneer Press - 3/16/2020
Mar. 16--The contract agreement that ended the St. Paul teacher strike features $4.7 million for new mental health staff on top of the full $9.6 million the school district planned to spend on wages.
The St. Paul Federation of Educators this weekend sent details of the contract agreement to members, who are expected to vote Wednesday or Thursday.
"Our strike was very successful," bargaining team member Pete Grebner said in a video summarizing the agreement. "It wasn't until the World Health Organization declared a pandemic because of the coronavirus that we had to change our plans. Unfortunately, we had to settle for a few things we wouldn't have settled for."
The district initially proposed salary schedule increases of 1.5 percent this year and 2 percent next year, at a cost of $9.6 million. They said any other proposals would mean less money for wages.
Ultimately, they gave the union both $9.6 million in wage increases -- plus built-in pay hikes based on education level and experience -- and $4.7 million for new mental health hires.
"We did have to settle for the district's wage increase proposal, but none of the staffing increases were costed against that wage increase," Grebner said in the video.
The union went on strike Tuesday, saying its top priority was a team of mental health professionals at every school.
The school district agreed Friday morning to spend $4.7 million on those teams -- hiring a number of social workers, school counselors, psychologists, nurses and behavior intervention specialists. That's roughly one-sixth of what the district has said the union's initial staffing proposal would have cost.
It's not clear how much the contract will cost the district in total, but the union the said deal features a number of additional items:
-- the hiring of 10 bilingual educational assistants;
-- smaller caseloads for teachers of special education and English learners;
-- continued funding for a restorative practices coordinator in schools that have implemented the model with fidelity;
-- a full-time substitute teacher for any building that has 50 teacher absences go uncovered before spring break.
District officials said Friday they aren't releasing details until the contract is approved by both union members and the school board.
The federation represents some 3,600 teachers, educational assistants and school and community service professionals who returned to work Friday afternoon.
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