Teachers in Minneapolis are set to go on strike on Tuesday morning, shuttering classrooms for about 30,000 public school students.
For weeks, the teachers’ unions and school district officials have been negotiating over salaries, hiring and resources for students’ mental health. The talks in Minneapolis failed to reach a resolution by their Monday evening deadline, with the district saying that it could not afford to meet teachers’ demands.
Greta Callahan, who leads the teachers’ chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said significant change was needed.
“They continue to look at our proposals and say, ‘These are add-ons that we can’t afford.’ And we’re saying, ‘No, you need to rewrite the whole system and do things differently.’”
In an emailed statement on Monday evening, the district announced that classes would be closed on Tuesday.
“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,” it said, adding that the district “would remain at the mediation table nonstop in an effort to reduce the length and impact of this strike.”
A teachers’ strike also remained a possibility next door in St. Paul, where negotiations between educators and the district were continuing.
Students in Minneapolis have already faced pandemic-related disruptions this year. In January, students learned remotely for two weeks because of staff shortages related to the coronavirus.
As schools across the United States returned from winter break during the Omicron surge, many teachers’ unions raised concerns about understaffing because of illness, as well as shortages of masks and tests. In Chicago, home to the country’s third-largest school district, a week of classes were canceled after teachers’ union members argued that classrooms were unsafe. Schools reopened after a deal was announced on Jan. 10.
But pandemic-related issues have not been the sole source of disagreement between the Minneapolis teachers’ union and the school district.
Members of the union have asked for more competitive salaries for teachers, a starting salary of $35,000 for most education support professionals, better conditions to recruit and retain educators of color, and enough staff to address students’ mental health needs.
Ed Graff, the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, has said that the district shared many of the same goals. But the district said it had been hamstrung by falling enrollment numbers, which means cuts to school budgets.
The district, he said, “continues to face a significant gap between the resources we have — our revenue — and the financial commitments we made — our expenses,” in part because of falling enrollment, rising costs and decades of underfunding.
Mr. Graff added that coronavirus relief funds from the federal government were helping the district address budget shortfalls, but would not be enough to cover long-term expenses like salary increases.
The teachers’ union has pointed to budget surpluses in Minnesota and said that within the district, money and power have been concentrated at the top while educators have struggled to do more with less.