Mary Webb-Hampton, Ana Vásquez, and Catina Taylor—members of the union's bargaining team—clasped hands at a press conference announcing the tentative agreement to end the 14-day educator strike. Credit: Becky Z. Dernbach | Sahan Journal

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Thirty thousand Minneapolis students could be back in class Monday, after striking educators and the Minneapolis Public Schools reached a tentative agreement early Friday morning. The deal, if approved by members this weekend, will end a strike that lasted 14 school days—nearly three full weeks.

The final agreements came together around 3:30 a.m. Friday morning, superintendent Ed Graff said. After negotiations stalled out Wednesday, district and union leaders reconvened Thursday intent on reaching a settlement, and negotiated through the night. The union called the tentative agreement “historic” with “major gains”; and the district described it as “fair and equitable.” 

Teachers, who have not yet seen the full contract, expressed a mix of caution and hope about the deal. Educational support professionals, many of whom earn less than $35,000 a year, will see the largest gains from the settlement—a top union priority. But some of the agreements are temporary and will expire. 

And while the strike drew public attention to longstanding problems in state education funding, it did not immediately resolve them. Without additional funding, and with a budget shortfall looming in Minneapolis, some of the funding disputes are likely to occur again.

Union and district leaders both praised the deal.

“These historic agreements contain important wins for our students and the safe and stable schools they deserve,” the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals said in a statement.

In a Friday morning press conference, superintendent Ed Graff acknowledged the process had been lengthy and difficult. “At the end of the day, we were all able to come together and tentatively agree upon what I believe is a fair contract for both our teachers and our education support professionals,” he said. 

To students, he said, “We’re really looking forward to welcoming you back into our schools with our teachers, our support staff, our administrators, and everyone who cares so much and deeply about you.”

The district and union are beginning the process of figuring out how to make up missed days, Graff said. That could include extending the school year, rescheduling professional development days, or lengthening the school day. More information would be available soon, he said.

Kim Ellison, the school board chair, praised the negotiating team. “The last few weeks have affirmed what many of us already knew: that Minneapolis is a place of passion and compassion, a place where people will do anything for our children,” she said. “Today is a new day for our kids, for our schools, and for our district.”

The last day on the picket line?

During that press conference, educators picketed outside the district’s headquarters in north Minneapolis for what they hoped was the last day, passing out hand warmers and breakfast sandwiches.

Teachers of color from North Community High School, who had not yet seen the tentative agreement, struck notes of cautious optimism. 

Tim Rand, a health education teacher at North Community High School, hoped the agreement would bring more stability to his students. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Tim Rand, who teaches health education, said he wanted a living wage for educational support professionals and more mental health support for students. “When kids have turnover and they have different teachers every year, they’re always kind of on edge,” Rand said. 

Staff stability is particularly important for north Minneapolis students, he said. “Schools really do need to be a safe place for them.”

Anita Walker, who has worked as a special education assistant for eight years, said she was waiting to see the contract. Her duties at North High include feeding and diapering students with disabilities. She was frustrated to see teenage workers in entry level jobs at McDonald’s and Target making similar wages to her own, she said.

“I feel like a lot of this strike could have been avoided if they just showed some respect for the underdog,” she said. Educational support professionals like her spend so much time with students they play a parenting role, she said.

Anita Walker posed for a photo on the picket line at the Davis Center. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Justin Goldstein, a math teacher at North, said he was feeling “happy, I guess.” 

“I’m very happy we get to go back to school,” he elaborated. “I think our students have suffered a little bit, and I’m kind of concerned to go back to school and see where they’re at.”

Goldstein said he questioned some of his union’s actions through the course of the strike, including marching at the homes of school-board members. Many school board members are Black, and Goldstein disagreed with the “mob mentality” of appearing at their homes. “They’re kind of tone-deaf to racial awareness,” he said of the union. 

But Goldstein said a lot of positive things had come out of the strike, too. He appreciated getting to know his co-workers better on the picket line, he said, and he was glad the education support professionals had reached a deal.

“A lot of them felt like they were putting everything on the line,” he said. “I hope that whatever they get out of it, they feel that it was worth it.”

Jonathan Goldstein and Samuel Wilbur, who teach math and journalism at North Community High School, picketed outside the Davis Center Friday morning. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

What’s in the final contract

The early-morning deal came after a turbulent week. After significant progress toward an agreement with educational support professionals over the weekend, bargaining came to a halt altogether on Wednesday. On Thursday, talks resumed with both sides intent on closing a deal.

The tentative contract agreement has not yet been made public—even to union members. But the union did share a summary of the contract, and discussed highlights with the press Friday afternoon. Here are some highlights of what’s in the deal:

Educational support professional pay. Shaun Laden, the president of the union’s educational support professional chapter, said a combination of pay raises, additional hours, and additional days would bring ESPs “very close to our goal” of a minimum of $35,000 for each staff member. 

“We have historic agreements that have significantly raised pay for education support professionals,” he said.

Some of the agreements for additional hours come in the form of a one-year temporary agreement, he said, so they will have to be negotiated again in the next contract. (This will come in 2023.)

ESPs will also receive $6,000 in bonuses, with an additional $1,000 to those with more than 10 years of service. Associate educators–educational support professionals who provide direct classroom support–will also gain seniority rights.

Class-size caps. Minneapolis will be the second school district in the state (joining St. Paul) to adopt class-size limits for every grade and every school in the contract. The details of those class-size caps have not yet been made public.

Mental-health support for students. The contract includes a minimum of one full-time social worker and one half-time nurse in every school. It also includes a “full mental-health support team”—that is, a nurse, school counselor, psychologist, and social worker—at every secondary school. The number of elementary schools with full mental-health support teams will double, as will the number of elementary schools with counselors. 

Language for counselors and nurses is in a temporary agreement, Laden said. Again, that means the positions will need to be renegotiated in 2023.

Teacher pay. Teachers will receive a 2 percent salary increase in the first year of the contract and a 3 percent raise in the second year of the contract. In the contract’s first year, they will receive a $4,000 bonus. Minneapolis teachers have not received more than a 2 percent raise at any point this century, and in some years have received no raise at all. 

They had originally asked for a 20 percent raise in hopes of catching up with teacher salaries in neighboring districts. Still, the 3 percent raise is more than they have received in decades.

Retention of teachers of color. In the past, teacher layoffs have been implemented solely based on seniority order. The last teachers hired have been the first to go: a process that disproportionately cuts teachers of color, who are more likely to be recently hired. The contract includes language that will allow teachers of color to keep their jobs out of seniority order.

The school board, which outlined the financial parameters for contract negotiations, approved an additional $10 million for educational support professionals, Ellison said in an interview Thursday. She expected the board to approve another $500,000 to settle the contract with teachers. Increased spending on these contracts will result in budget cuts elsewhere, Graff said Friday.

Educators are expected to vote on the tentative agreement over the weekend. If they approve the contract, classes could resume Monday.

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.