Not all of the results of the recent Saint Paul Public Schools negotiations will show up in the teachers’ contract. Some of the proposals, identified by both the community and the teachers’ union as priorities, will receive action from the school board without being written into the contract. (Full disclosure: I was part of the union’s community engagement process, taking notes and doing follow-up research for community discussion groups.)
Whole Child Supports
Beyond the new contract’s tighter class size language, the district will hire at least 42 full-time positions’ worth of staff in critical roles, including nurses, media specialists, school social workers, and counselors. This reflected a joint priority of families, community leaders, and union members, who spoke passionately and frequently about the importance of these roles in keeping children safe and healthy, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. According to the districts’ summary, “Staffing guidelines will be incorporated into a board resolution on staffing supports to be adopted by the SPPS Board of Education on March 18.”
Another popular, shared priority was increasing access to early childhood learning opportunities. The district operates a popular pre-K program, and has committed outside of the contract to spending at least $6 million a year on it. This should help reduce the waiting list for the program, benefiting hundreds more students every year. Much of the additional investment was made possible by the state’s new funding of all-day kindergarten, freeing up district funds that had been set aside for all-day-K.
Again, it is important to note that these agreements reflect areas of community and teacher interest well outside the conventional boundaries of wages, benefits, and conditions of employment. Even though these particular pieces were not written into the contract, the progress that has been made on these issues should be seen as a result of the recent negotiations process. These outcomes demonstrate the power of proactive, inclusive union engagement with communities, and they also reflect the deep interest families, community leaders, and teachers have in working together to make schools better.