Mar 21, 2022 - News

What to know about the Minneapolis teachers strike

Illustration of a fist holding a pencil.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Minneapolis public school classes remain canceled, as the teachers strike nears the two-week mark.

  • Confused about what's caused the contract dispute and where things go from here? We've collected answers to some common questions.
What do the teachers want?

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers' priorities include a 12% pay increase, a raise to starting wages for education support professionals and limits on class sizes.

  • What they're saying: Leaders said last week that mediation sessions were becoming more productive but that they remained committed to their goals.
What is the district offering?

The district's most recent publicly released offer includes 2% cost of living increases, with raises of up to 12% for newer teachers, in year one of the contract and 2% increases for all in the second year.

  • Other proposals include assigning a social worker to every building and capping class sizes for high-need schools and subjects.

What's new: On Sunday, the district released what it called its best and final offer for education support professionals. The proposal increases wages for most of those workers to $35,000 for full-time schedules and provides bonuses and money for added hours.

  • The leader of the union chapter representing the ESPs said the offer was close to a deal but not quite there.
How much do Minneapolis teachers make, and how does that compare to other districts?

The average MPS teacher salary is $71,535. Minneapolis teachers in 2018-2019 had the 12th highest pay among public school districts in Minnesota.

Yes, but: Raises haven't kept up with inflation, union leaders say, and other districts' average salaries have grown faster.

  • Minneapolis now ranks 36th, trailing districts like Grand Rapids and Hibbing, which have a much lower cost of living.

Between the lines: While MPS offers a competitive starting salary, it takes much longer to get raises, according to the Sahan Journal.

What is MPS' current financial situation?

The district faces a $21.5 million budget deficit for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The gap this year was even bigger ($51 million), but officials were able to use federal COVID relief dollars to help plug the hole.

What's driving the deficit?

The state's education funding formula is based on enrollment, meaning when kids leave the district, MPS gets less money.

  • Even with record spending on schools in the last budget, education leaders say the annual formula increases, which have been about 2% most years, don't keep up with rising costs.

Plus: Federal cash meant to pay for special education and other federally mandated services doesn't fully cover the cost.

How much has MPS enrollment declined?

MPS had struggled with declining enrollment for years, but the district took a massive hit in the past two years.

  • There were about 33,500 students in Minneapolis schools in fall 2019. The number plummeted to 28,700 in October.
Why is the student population down so much recently?

When COVID hit and MPS closed schools to in-person learning, some parents sent their kids to private school, charter schools or public school districts that remained open to in-person learning.

The district also implemented a controversial redesign that moved magnet schools and re-drew boundaries.

  • Former MPS superintendent Peter Hutchinson recently wrote in the Star Tribune that the redesign limited "people's choices in order to get more students into buildings with low enrollments" and contributed to a major loss in students.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for MPS said the district does not know how many students left because of the redistricting.

How could MPS come up with the money?

Superintendent Ed Graff said even before the strike that discussions regarding layoffs and school consolidations would be "unavoidable" as the district seeks to balance the budget.

  • Federal COVID funds will help in the short term, but can't be counted on for future years.

Of note: The district is already at the maximum operating referendum, a spokesperson said, so it can't ask voters for more cash this fall to cover the gap.

What about the state surplus?

In theory, some of the state's $9.25 billion surplus could go to schools.

  • But proposals would need bipartisan backing to clear the divided Legislature and any eventual deals aren't expected until closer to the summer.

Between the lines: GOP legislators' public comments on the strike and the teachers' union suggest it's unlikely they'd be on board with legislation aimed at bailing out Minneapolis schools specifically.

What does the strike mean for the school year?

The 10 days of missed classes has brought Minneapolis below the state's minimum requirement for instructional days.

  • So far, at least five days will likely have to be made up, either by cancelling part of spring break or extending the school year into the summer.
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