As the strike enters the end of the week, more than 4,000 instructors are working without pay, and more than 30,000 pupils are missing classes.
The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is requesting that the district reduce class sizes, fund extra mental health services for children, and raise salaries for both classroom teachers and education support staff.
Minneapolis teachers earn an average of $71,535 a year, according to Minnesota’s Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board. That’s over $14,000 less than the average teacher salary in St. Paul.
Minneapolis education support providers are paid a starting wage of only $24,000 per year, according to the union, which they want the district to raise to $35,000 per year.
Ed Graff, the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, has stated that he agrees that teachers and education support workers should be paid more, but that his system cannot afford it.
At a board meeting late last month, district executives acknowledged their unsustainable budget concerns. Despite the fact that they are now spending $75 million in one-time COVID relief cash to shore up their budget, they foresee a roughly $22 million shortfall next year.
The gap, according to district officials, will almost certainly result in layoffs or school closures in the future.
“We will have to make a reduction in staff. It will mean consideration of consolidating programs and perhaps schools. These are things that we cannot avoid based on what we’re seeing with our revenue and expenditures,” Graff said at the February meeting.
The St. Paul Public Schools have already had to consolidate programs and schools. Due to falling enrolment, the St. Paul school board voted in December to shut or alter six of their schools.
The Minneapolis school system is likewise citing decreased enrollment for fiscal concerns.
In Minneapolis, just 58 percent of pupils attend Minneapolis Public Schools. The remaining students attend private, charter, open enrollment, or homeschooling schools. This is lower than the 63 percent of K-12 kids in adjacent St. Paul who attend district schools.
Enrollment decreases in Minneapolis began in 2017 and have since persisted. Families are opting for charter or private schools in the city, according to the district. Part of the reason for the migration from public schools is the epidemic. Families are also relocating to lower-cost homes in the district. Families of color make up a large portion of people leaving Minneapolis.
The fleeing families are concerned about a lack of academic rigor and safety, as well as school atmosphere and racism, according to Eric Moore, Minneapolis’ chief accountability, research, and equity officer. He goes on to say that they are concerned about their safety.
“When I look at the data, I see those external factors,” Moore said. “They’re not just leaving Minneapolis Public Schools, they’re saying that we need to partner better with the city and really address some of these fundamental issues regarding crime, safety…affordable housing. Those are major issues as a school district that we can’t do alone and it’s affecting our enrollment.”
The district’s budget is also being impacted by inflation. The cost of gasoline for school buses, as well as the cost of supplies and meals, is increasing.
Minneapolis school officials, like their colleagues in other Minnesota districts, claim that federal and state funding for special education and English language learner programs is insufficient. Minneapolis’ budget has been slashed by $70 million as a result of the underfunding.
For years, Minnesota districts have lobbied the legislature to fix this gap.
On Wednesday, the Minneapolis teachers’ union held a rally at the State Capitol, urging lawmakers to use budget surplus funds to support schools.
The union’s education support professionals president, Shaun Laden, has cited the St. Paul district, which is suffering financial problems comparable to Minneapolis’, as proof that the Minneapolis system should be able to satisfy teacher union requests. With a tentative agreement, St. Paul and its union narrowly avoided a strike, and indicated they will announce specifics of the accord at a later date.
“We know in Minneapolis, because they did it in St. Paul, we don’t have a budget crisis — we have a values, a priority crisis,” Laden said in a video posted online Thursday morning.
On Friday and Saturday, officials from the district and the union will meet for mediation.
The school district cautioned that the gap in classroom time would have to be made up as the union’s strike entered its fourth day.
Minneapolis Public Schools said on its website that students in seventh and eighth grades, as well as some high school students, will need to add extra instructional time to their calendars. Elementary pupils will not be required to make up instructional time if the strike lasts five days or fewer. By lowering professional development time or extending the end of the school year, more classroom hours will be added to spring break.