Hundreds of St Paul teachers and supporters rally at school board
Teachers’ union strike vote looms next week
Saint Paul, MN – A sea of red spread over the Saint Paul School District headquarters Feb. 18 as more than 500 teachers and their supporters rallied at the school board meeting, most wearing the color used by the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers. The group rallied outside the School District building at 360 Colbourne then marched inside to pack the board meeting. Teachers and their supporters overwhelmed the meeting room, spilling out and filling two overflow rooms. Speaker after speaker told the school board and Superintendent Silva that they need to actually negotiate with the teachers if they want to avoid a strike. Teachers have set a strike vote for Feb. 24.
The crowd included teachers and other school workers as well as parents, students, members of other unions, community supporters and some politicians.
The teachers union has been negotiating with the Saint Paul School District for nine months with little progress. The teachers’ proposals have won support from many parents, and include reducing out-of-control class sizes, increasing support staff – such as nurses and librarians – in the schools, reigning in standardized testing in favor of more quality classroom learning, universal pre-K and other measures that cut against the trend of corporate-style education ‘reform.’
While Saint Paul Superintendent Valeria Silva has a long history as a teacher and then administrator in Saint Paul Public Schools, she is also a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy. Broad Academy was created in 2002 by billionaire Eli Broad to train school administrators around the country to run schools like corporations. Graduates are now in leadership positions at many of the largest school districts around the country. Critics say that Broad Academy graduates are trained to use corporate-management techniques to consolidate power, weaken teachers’ job protections, cut parents out of decision-making and introduce unproven reform measures.
This week Saint Paul school district officials sent out mass mailings and emails to parents that drew the ire of many teachers and parents, who saw them as an intentional attempt to instill fear and divide parents from teachers. At their Feb. 18 meeting, the school board was set to discuss a resolution that would have amplified the fear campaign, by threatening school closings, the possible extension of the school calendar and layoffs of nonessential employees if teachers strike. In the face of growing criticism from teachers and parents toward these kinds of tactics the school board decided to table the resolution.
The next negotiation day is set for Feb. 20. If no agreement is reached and teachers vote to authorize a strike on Feb. 24, a strike could start as soon as ten days after that. If a strike happens, all Saint Paul schools would close.