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St. Paul Public Schools, educator's union still divided on wages and benefits as potential strike looms

St. Paul teachers announce strike date
St. Paul teachers announce strike date 01:50

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Class could be canceled for more than 30,000 St. Paul students, if their teachers don't reach a deal with the district.

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard, senior leaders with the district and Board of Education members say great progress have been made.

Gothard didn't shy away from the district's $107 million budget deficit. However, he highlighted they've invested $20 million in literacy and safety among other things. 

For Matt Hill and his family, talks of a potential teacher's strike is unfathomable.

"It shouldn't be acceptable we are talking about closing schools again," Hill said. "I expect a deal to be done period."

Hill has two children in the district, a 1st and 2nd grader. Hill said his family hasn't even talked about a backup plan for childcare but says this strike would impact families.

Five mediation sessions later, the toughest hurdle remains wages and benefits.

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"Our budget priorities have been based on the needs of our students, staff and families," Gothard said. "We'll do whatever we can to settle this contract in a way that's fair for our taxpayers, constituents and certainly our students and families."

The district's lead negotiator Pat Pratt-Cook said they are open to a third party making the decision. Moving forward, the district says they will send the union leadership a letter by Tuesday to express their interest in pursuing interest-based arbitration.

Cook said this option would ensure that students have the ability to remain in school and not be disrupted.

"Both sides would share proposals, positions hoping to accomplish, and outcome would ultimately be settled by mediator," Cook said.

Both sides would have to agree to this.

In a statement, the Saint Paul Federation of Educators President Leah VanDassor said they were kept in the dark.

"Our union is disappointed to learn of this development in a news conference, instead of talking to us first. We remain committed to reaching a settlement that benefits both our students and our educators and believe this can still be accomplished via mediation. We look forward to our next mediation session this Friday and getting a response to our latest financial offer."

Both sides are set to meet again this Friday and will work through the weekend to reach a deal. If a deal can't be reached, the union says educators will strike on March 11

Gothard was recently named as the new leader of Wisconsin's Madison Metropolitan School District, where he spent most of his career before moving to Minnesota.

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