Minneapolis school board chair Kim Ellison on her front porch in 2020. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Minneapolis school board chair Kim Ellison told Sahan Journal Thursday evening that she expects the school district to reach a contract deal with striking educators late tonight or early tomorrow.

Negotiations, which resumed earlier in the day, are “going really, really well,” she said. “I’m so excited.” 

Union leaders also expressed hope that a deal was imminent. Asked if she thought Ellison’s assessment was correct, Greta Callahan, the teacher chapter president of the union, said via text message, “I hope so!!!”

“We’re feeling very good about today, and our folks should feel very hopeful about being back really soon,” Shaun Laden, the educational support professionals chapter president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals, said Thursday before Ellison’s announcement.

After settling on a deal, teachers and the district must agree to a return-to-school plan. The district’s 30,000 students haven’t been in school during the 13-day strike. Superintendent Ed Graff has told the union it’s “non-negotiable” that students will return to school Monday, Ellison said.

Negotiations progressed so smoothly Thursday that only a few members of the negotiating team remain working on details, Ellison said. The school board’s executive committee is expected to meet tonight to approve an additional half million dollars in funds to settle the teacher contract. The executive committee already approved an additional $10 million to settle the educational support professional contract.

Ellison said she was most excited about the protections for teachers of color in the prospective contract. Provisions to retain teachers of color during the excess and layoff processes were a stated top priority for both the school board and union. But the parties did not reach an agreement on the item until recent days, which caused frustration and confusion for teachers of color.

Though district leaders had once hoped the state legislature would allocate the district additional funding from the state’s $9 billion surplus, that hasn’t happened. Governor Tim Walz’s proposed budget includes some increases to education funding, but it must be negotiated with a Republican-controlled Senate, and no deal is likely until May.

The negotiated contract does not rely on additional state funding, Ellison said. 

“We’re not counting on it,” she said. “We understand there’s a Republican Senate that doesn’t usually give money to public education.”

Still, she hoped the school board can work with community members, workers, and school district associations to “turn over” the state Senate to increase education funding in the future.

“A lot of the issues that we have here in the urban area—Minneapolis, St. Paul, Osseo—are spreading throughout the state,” she said. “Everybody suffers from the underfunding of special education. And so we’re hoping we can work with some of our neighboring districts to work on changing the state setup.”

Families should know that all parties are working on a deal that is fair for workers and gets children back in school soon, she said.

“It’s clear, but it’s become more clear to me, that workers and the district are on the same side. We all care about students,” she said. “We have differences on how to settle contracts, but it doesn’t mean either side is less committed to children and their education.”

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