St. Paul schools shut as teachers strike amid contract talks

It's the district's first strike since 1946

Teachers at St. Paul Public Schools will go on strike Tuesday, after last-minute efforts to reach a contract agreement failed, the union representing the teachers said.

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The walkout — the district's first strike since 1946 — will cancel classes for roughly 37,000 students and force parents to make alternate plans for their children.

The school district and the union that represents teachers negotiated for six straight days and continued talking into the night Monday in an effort to avert a strike.

On Monday, Superintendent Joe Gothard asked that the union take the contract dispute to arbitration instead of striking, the Pioneer Press reported.

"This is a way to avoid a strike and keep our students in school," Gothard said in a statement. "I don't believe a strike is good for anyone, especially our students. I also don’t believe a strike is inevitable, and interest arbitration is a way to ensure kids are in school while the negotiation process continues."

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But union spokeswoman Megan Boldt said the union was not interested in that. She said the union presented another proposal to the district on Monday afternoon.

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The union has said it's seen no significant movement on bigger issues, including additional resources for mental health, multilingual and special education needs. It said in a statement early Tuesday that the district's latest proposal "dramatically slashed" the number of support staff that the union proposed.

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"We wanted to settle this contract and be in school with our students Tuesday morning," Nick Faber, president of the Saint Paul Federation of Educators, said. "Unfortunately, after more than nine months and marathon bargaining over the weekend, district leaders weren’t willing to move on the issues educators and parents know will help students thrive and break down racial barriers in our schools."

As part of St. Paul Public Schools' strike plan, classes were to be canceled Tuesday and Wednesday, but breakfast and lunch will be served at some community and school locations and 24 public schools will serve meals.

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Students from grades six to 12 will be allowed to keep their school-issued iPads and access online academic resources. And starting Thursday, the district will open seven sites for up to 4,000 elementary school-aged children, where they could be supervised, the Star Tribune reported.