Minnesota Teachers Planning A Strike For More Money And More Diversity

This week has been an important week for Minnesota teachers in Minneapolis. What started on Valentine's Day, February 14 and concludes on February 17, 2022, is the opportunity for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) teachers to cast their ballots. What exactly are they voting on? Whether they support a teacher's strike or not. That's right they want to shut down schools there, yet again.

By Dewey Finn | Published

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This week has been an important week for Minnesota teachers in Minneapolis. What started on Valentine’s Day, February 14 and concludes on February 17, 2022, is the opportunity for Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) teachers to cast their ballots. What exactly are they voting on? Whether they support a teacher’s strike or not. That’s right they want to shut down schools there, yet again.

For some time now, the public school district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) union have been battling back and forth with their negotiations on a contract they both feel fair for each side. So far, that fairness hasn’t been reached, so a potential strike has begun to cast a dark shadow over the city.

While Minnesota teachers’ approval is key, the union still does have the final say on whether a strike is actually necessary. If so, the MFT would then go formal with their notification to the school district telling them a teacher’s strike was imminent. Unfortunately, things do not look good.

MPS teachers have a small-ish laundry list of “asks” of the school district. They are first requesting smaller class sizes. Overcrowding has become an issue across the country, but that could be because teachers are vacating their positions in record numbers. Minnesota teachers are asking for higher wages. They’re asking for higher wages at a time when they’ve had schools closed much of the time for the past two years and the performance of students (which is indicative of their performance as teachers) has never been worse. Opponents say it’s akin to losing your company a lot of money and then demanding your boss give you a raise or else you’ll lose him even more.

In addition to demanding even more money they would like access to better mental health resources, especially after having to deal with the non-ending fallout from the COVID pandemic. And speaking of the COVID pandemic, they would also like to see much better COVID precautions.

“It’s the most stressful school year ever and we cannot allow our children to go through one more day of current conditions, many of which are years in the making,” Greta Callahan, president of the teacher’s chapter of the MFT, said to WCCO News. Did she mean teachers instead of children? Another ask by the Minnesota teachers is they are needing to see improvement as it pertains to the support and retention of educators of color. It’s hard to see why the skin color of educators is making school conditions bad for children, but that seems to be one of their claims.

Parents of Minneapolis Public Schools have been kept abreast of the situation as MPS Superintendent Ed Graff put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and sent a letter to those concerned about what the immediate future could look like. In it, he said, “…our staff and MPS as a whole remain committed to our students while recognizing the needs of our educators. At the same time, we cannot deny the potential ramifications of a strike after nearly two years of disruptions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In his letter, Graff also said that if an actual strike were to take place, all classes would be canceled throughout the district for as long as the strike went on. He warned the parents that any missed days because of teachers striking would have to be made up later in order for students to meet the state and graduation requirements. This would mean that the school year would potentially extend into summer, possibly delaying any graduations.

Callahan took exception to some of Graff’s statement saying, “There’s no law saying that students have to make up those days if we are out on strike. So that part was especially frustrating because it isn’t true at all.” She seems to have a point. According to critics that point is that Minnesota teachers aren’t willing to make up the days they plan to skip, even if that’s the best way to keep their students up to speed, it seems.

According to a spokesperson for Minnesota’s Department of Education, “The minimum number of instructional hours that is required for Minnesota schools is laid out in statute. It’s pretty common that schools add a couple of extra days over the minimum to their planned school year if they have a snow day or there’s a power outage, or any other reason where instruction might not happen as planned. If for any reason a school does not meet the minimum number of required instructional hours, they would need to add more days to their school calendar to meet that minimum.”

Graff also wanted to let parents and the Minnesota teachers know that he was in their corner when it came to asking for a fair wage increase. Unfortunately, he claims, the MFT’s proposals are “not fiscally feasible.” Again, Callahan was at odds with Graff’s “fiscally feasible” views.

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“It’s a time of empowerment after many years of feeling like many of us couldn’t keep going on and we’ve lost, as you know, hundreds of educators from our chapter alone in the last year and a half,” Callahan said. “A teacher said to me, ‘This is my last step before resigning.’ So, it’s exciting to think that there is hope.”

After the strike polls close on Thursday, the votes will be counted that night. Callahan says the Minnesota teachers will have their answer the next day. That is also when the MFT and the MPS are scheduled for their next mediation conference.

If Minnesota teachers voted in favor of a strike, and the MFT then did go on strike, it would be a rare occurrence. Not since 1970 has the union approved a strike. Let’s hope, for the sake of the children who have already endured far too much, that cooler heads prevail.