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Minneapolis Educators Finish Day 1 Of Strike For Higher Pay, Better Conditions For Students

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minneapolis public school educators officially went on strike Tuesday morning.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals announced the strike early Monday evening. The union and school district failed to come to an agreement during the 10-day cooling period following a strike authorization vote late last month.

Teachers and school support staff began picketing at schools at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, and union leaders were holding a press conference at that time at Justice Page Middle School in south Minneapolis.

Following the announcement, officials with Minneapolis Public Schools gave this statement: "While it is disappointing to hear this news, we know our organizations' mutual priorities are based on our deep commitment to the education of Minneapolis students. MPS will remain at the mediation table non-stop in an effort to reduce the length and impact of this strike."

About 3,500 Minneapolis teachers and education support professionals will participate in the strike. Their demands include a living wage for the support professionals staff, smaller class sizes and a counselor and social worker at every school. They're also looking for more educators of color and higher teacher salaries. The average for Minneapolis teachers is $71,000.

Minneapolis Teachers Strike FAQ: What You Need To Know

Leaders of the Minneapolis teachers union see this strike as an existential necessity. Greta Callahan is MFT president.

"Those at the top of this district continue to hoard power," Callahan said. "If we don't intervene, we believe the Minneapolis Public Schools will cease to exist."

She says the union's top priority is a living wage for support staff, like teacher's aids, bus drivers, secretaries, and janitors. Currently, support staff are making as little as $24,000 a year. The union is asking for a minimum of $35,000 a year.

"Because we make school happen every single day," Callahan said. "You need to change the way that you've been doing things because you are driving families and educators out of this district."

Union leaders say they want their demands solidified in a contract.

"What we're seeing from our HR department in Minneapolis is an attempt to enter into temporary agreements, and we have communicated this to those negotiators: It's not sufficient. We can't be in this place in 2 years again having a big fight, knocked down, dragged out over our top priorities. Get it in the contract like they were able to do in St. Paul," said ESP Chapter President Shaun Laden.

District leaders say they want a resolution, but are dealing with a $100 million budget gap, and say they can't spend money they don't have.

Minneapolis teachers strike
(credit: CBS)

MPS officials say emergency supervision for pre-K through fifth grade students is "on an extremely limited basis," and parents and guardians should contact their schools if emergency service is needed, starting this Wednesday. The district also released a list of community resources for child care, meals and other services.

Also starting Wednesday, students can pick up a meal bag from their schools daily, containing a breakfast and a lunch. District officials say school-based clinics and mental health services will still be provided, and online learning activities will also be available for students "to keep minds active during the strike."

Cliff Willmeng, a father of two students at Andersen United Middle School, said Monday he and his children support the teachers despite the disruption to classes.

"Inconvenience in this case is really a necessary prescription for some real justice," Willmeng said. "If this is what it has to come to, and it clearly does, we're willing as parents to chip in whatever we can do."

Willmeng says the strike will teach his children a lesson about supporting workers and fighting for social justice.

Before the strike was announced, the district said it "remains committed to reaching contract agreement and staying at the table -- with or without a strike." The district also said it faces a nearly $100 million budget shortfall for next year.

There are about 29,000 students in Minneapolis Public Schools. The strike will continue until a contract agreement is reached. This is the first Minneapolis teachers strike in more than 50 years.

St. Paul Public Schools and the St. Paul Federation of Educators were able to reach a tentative deal Monday night, averting a strike.

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