St. Paul teachers and school support staff members have ratified the new bargaining agreement that ended a three-day strike nearly two weeks ago.
But the school board is not expected to act on the contract until April — leaving unknown for now the agreement’s impact on a 2020-21 budget that already was projected to show nearly a $10 million deficit.
On Tuesday night, the board also learned that the district had taken a revenue hit of about $8.6 million in the first quarter of the current school year and that its rainy-day fund is expected to drop by $5.4 million. That would put the fund barely above the amount that the board seeks to have on hand each year, under current policy.
Board members heard the details during a monthly meeting conducted through teleconferencing — a step they agreed to in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With schools closed, the district has rushed to prepare for distance learning and has distributed meals citywide. It also has provided child care for state-designated essential employees — with the average being 80 to 100 students a day.
The district’s actions in the past week come at an unprecedented time, said Board Member Steve Marchese, and are all the more “breathtaking,” he added, coming so quickly after the district’s first teachers’ strike in more than 70 years.
The St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) made as a priority the strengthening of student mental health supports and came away with a deal dedicating $4.7 million next year to the hiring of additional counselors, social workers, nurses, psychologists and behavior intervention specialists. Superintendent Joe Gothard had said the union’s original request would have cost $30 million.
Ten additional bilingual educational assistants also are to be hired as part of the deal, at an unspecified cost.
“Despite a national pandemic cutting our fight short, St. Paul educators were able to win more resources for our students,” Nick Faber, the union’s president, said in a news release announcing the results of last week’s ratification vote. “We won’t stop using our collective power to advocate for the public schools children and educators deserve.”
As part of the agreement, union negotiators accepted the district’s proposal of 1.5% and 2% increases in the contract’s two years. The federation had been seeking 3.4% and 2% hikes. The pay increases total $9.6 million, which had been same amount that the district initially said it was willing to invest in a new SPFE contract.
The board has yet to begin deliberations on a 2020-21 budget.
This year, general-fund expenditures are expected to total about $575 million.
New hires required under the contract would push the district beyond the budget parameters it set earlier — barring savings elsewhere. But in a break from past practice, the district declined this week to say what the total cost increase might be.
Kevin Burns, a district spokesman, said Tuesday that the district will be releasing “no other information” about the deal until after the board’s vote, which is tentatively set for April.
St. Paul has suffered in recent years from enrollment declines and budget deficits. This year, the district has seen a projected loss of 625 students rise to 948. It now has 36,004 students. As of Tuesday’s budget update, it is facing more red ink, too, even after voters approved an additional $17.3 million a year in funding beginning in the 2019-20 school year.
Anthony Lonetree • 612-673-4109