Teachers hit picket lines in Minneapolis as parents worry | Nation

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minneapolis public school teachers hit the picket lines Tuesday, calling for better salaries and “safe and stable schools,” as parents found themselves facing uncertainty that had become all too familiar during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We all have real jobs,” said Molly Dengler, whose first-grade son attends a Spanish immersion elementary school in downtown Minneapolis. “Maybe today they could call for unemployment, but it’s not sustainable to keep calling for unemployment.”

Dengler, co-chair of the parent-teacher association at her son’s school, said the PTA uses WhatsApp to notify parents, connect them with childcare and help them organize learning groups. .

The average annual salary for teachers in Minneapolis is over $71,000. The union says that puts them among the lowest-paid districts in Minneapolis-St. Paul district. One of the main union demands is a starting salary of $35,000 for education support professionals, up from the current $24,000, which union officials say is key to hiring and retaining people of color. .

“We are on strike for safe and stable schools, we are on strike for systemic change, we are on strike for our students, the future of our city, and the future of Minneapolis public schools,” said Greta Callahan. , president of the teachers. ‘ Minneapolis Teachers’ Federation chapter said outside a college where more than 100 union members and supporters picketed in freezing weather.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said students and parents across the county relied on school nurses, support staff and educators to create “as normal a situation as possible” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“How do you attract black and brown teachers if you’re not paying a living wage?” said Weingarten.

But school superintendent Ed Graff cited a $26 million budget shortfall for next year, which would be $97 million without one-time federal funding. He said the teachers’ proposals would cost about $166 million a year beyond what is currently budgeted.

“We have all these priorities that we want to see happen. And we don’t have the resources. And somebody has to be able to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do it,'” Graff said.

The district says it lost 3,000 students during the pandemic, leading to cuts in state aid.

According to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts, districts in the Twin Cities area face a combined shortfall of more than $230 million for the 2022-23 school year. He cited the costs of special education and English-learning programs, and the inability of state funding to keep pace with inflation.

In the St. Paul district, which has about 34,000 students, teachers and administrators reached a tentative agreement Monday night to avert a strike. The teachers’ union said the deal would raise salaries, maintain caps on class size and increase mental health supports.

The Minneapolis District advised parents to arrange childcare and said bagged breakfasts and lunches would be available for pickup from schools.

Suzanna and Bryan Altman plan to enroll their third-grade daughter, Annette, in a day camp that offers science and technology lessons and activities. The Altmans, who both work in technology, made it through the remote school days of Annette’s freshman and sophomore years as they worked from home and set up a mini pod with another family. They consider themselves lucky to have “many resources at their disposal”, including willing grandmothers.

Mark Spurlin, who has 6-year-old twins in kindergarten at the same Spanish immersion school as Dengler, said it could be difficult to get through an indefinite strike. Daycare would cost him and his wife, Megan, about $50-60 a day per boy.

“I could take time off, which wouldn’t be paid, to stay home with the boys, but that would be hard to do,” said Spurlin, a teacher at a suburban high school who was at home with COVID-19 when the strike has begun.

Spurlin, who is black, said his first teaching job was in the Minneapolis district, but he was laid off a few years ago due to budget cuts. He said the district needs to find a way to keep teachers of color while addressing current seniority rules that disproportionately affect them.

“Minneapolis has a problem. And Minneapolis public schools have a problem. And if there has to be a strike to deal with it, I completely understand,” Spurlin said. “But we’re also just a small family unit that – we want to support, we’re there – but we also have to do a lot of things to make it work.”

Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed to this report.

This story has been updated to correct the last name of the president of the Minneapolis Teachers’ Federation teachers’ chapter to Callahan, instead of Cunningham, and to note that the union’s press conference was held at the outside a college and not a primary school. .

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