Saint Paul Federation of Teachers sets Feb. 24 strike vote
Saint Paul, MN – On Feb. 10 the Executive Board of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers voted unanimously to call a strike vote for their members on Feb. 24. This comes after almost nine months of contract negotiations in which teachers have put forward bold proposals to defend and improve public education in Saint Paul, which have garnered the support of parents and community members but drawn negative responses from School District officials.
The teachers’ proposals include limiting class sizes and increasing the numbers of counselors, nurses, librarians and art teachers in the schools. These proposals would address universally-acknowledged needs in the schools, but School District officials reject them, saying setting firm limits would be too expensive and would take away “flexibility.”
In light of research that shows that pre-kindergarten education is important to closing the gap between white students and students of color, the teachers also proposed expanding pre-kindergarten access. And in another bold proposal the teachers want the district to agree to opt out of the state's annual math, reading and science tests, since they force teachers to spend enormous amounts of resources and class time teaching to the standardized test rather than engaging in quality classroom interaction.
The watershed strike by Chicago teachers in late 2012 turned on many similar issues. There is a well-funded and nationally orchestrated push for corporate-backed education reform which is playing out in cities across the country. Central to the corporate education reform playbook in their drive for privatization is blaming teachers for every problem large and small in public schools, and then pushing to weaken teachers’ unions as a supposed obstacle to solutions.
For years most teachers’ unions responded timidly in the face of such attacks, and kept their negotiations narrowly focused on teachers’ wages and benefits. But this approach just opened teachers up to attack for allegedly being ‘selfish’ and not caring about students or their communities or the huge problems facing urban public schools across the country. The Chicago teachers’ strike marked a turning point as the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) directly took on the corporate education reform agenda in their negotiations, making common cause with parents and communities.
Teachers around the country watched Chicago closely and appear to have taken the lessons to heart – timidity in the face of attack has led to defeat, while Chicago teachers’ approach of standing up in defense of public education in alliances with students, parents and communities changed the game. This month in Portland, Oregon teachers voted to strike while raising a broad agenda in defense of public education, and now Saint Paul teachers are also moving toward a strike vote with a broad agenda in favor of students, their communities, and public education.
The next negotiation date is set for February 20, just prior to the Feb. 24 strike vote. If the members vote to strike, a strike could begin anytime after a 10-day notice. School District officials said all classes will be canceled if teachers strike. The St. Paul Federation of Teachers is calling on supporters to sign their petition. They are also calling on members and supporters to mobilize for the Feb. 18 School Board meeting, gathering at 5:00 p.m. at the flagpole in front of district headquarters, at 360 Colborne St., Saint Paul. Follow developments on the St. Paul Federation of Teachers facebook page, and the I Stand with SPFT facebook group.