Minneapolis teachers and staff fight for their futures


Ayse Ozturk

After weeks of protest MFS finally settled with MPS for the treatment they felt they not only deserved, but the district needed.

Ayse Ozturk, Editor-in-Chief

Throughout Minneapolis, crowds of teachers, staff, and supporters could be seen peacefully rallying for better working conditions. Those from Minneapolis Public Schools, MPS, had finally ended their three-week strike.

The strikes began on March first, after weeks of negotiations between the teachers union and district officials ended with no final resolution by the Feb 28 deadline, causing 30,000 students to stay home due to the lack of school staff. 

St. Paul Public Schools faced a similar dilemma, but decisions that both parties agreed on were finalized just in time on Feb 28, avoiding school shut-downs.

Staff were represented by the Minneapolis Federation of Educators, MFS, as they fought for “safe and stable schools.”

Students returned to school Monday, March 28, as MPS and MFS came to an agreement that met some of the demands of educators. Though not all needs have been met, district officials say this is as much as they can do.

Requests by the union included living wages for all employees, a more diverse staff, mental health support, smaller class sizes, competitive compensation, and overall more respect and support for Education Support Professionals (ESPs).

“I think everyone, including ESPs, deserve to make a living wage, which was not happening in Minneapolis,” Mrs. Anne Sateren-Burrow, social studies teacher and MPS parent, said. “In fact, many of them were working full time in the schools plus holding down additional jobs in order to make ends meet. They are doing some of the toughest work in our schools and deserve to receive a wage that is not only livable, but honors the important work they do with our students every day.”

A lack of educators has been an issue nationwide during the pandemic. The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics stated that over 40% of schools have at least one teaching position and one staff position available. With better treatment of educators, the union believes that this will help hire and retain staff working in the district, something that will benefit overworked staff and provide more support to students.

These requests seem fairly reasonable, so why did a solution take so long?

District officials stated that budgeting was a significant issue, and the new pay increase for ESPs would require $10 million in budget cuts. MPS and MFS partially blame the state as there is a lack of education funding across Minnesota due to the budget not aligning with the ever-growing inflation, despite the government having billions in general budget surplus.

“Hopkins could always do more to support staff in terms of funding and support,” Mr. Michael Babine-Didden, social studies, said. “Much of it comes down to spending from the government, and so many school districts just need more money. From a historical perspective, much of our funding issues come down to the radical changes in our tax structure that occurred in the mid-1980s and the challenges that have been created that still haven’t come back for tax revenue and school funding.”

HHS is not exempt from the struggles that neighboring MPS face.

Both educators and students can see a lack of staff. The lack of substitutes around HHS can be seen by fellow teachers filling in for one another and multiple classes being put in the lecture hall. 

The need for funding can be seen through the new College and Career Counselor, which could only be hired because of the fundraising of the Hopkins Education Fund (HEF). 

Things like adding opportunity hour to students’ schedules help shrink class sizes, and a there has been a push for a more diverse staff to represent students. HHS also has social workers and holds events to support the student body’s mental health, but are all these improvements for students enough to support the staff?

Many feel that these issues will be a long-term investment to fix. Change must be made at not just a district level, but at a statewide level.

The wages of teachers and ESPs alone have been greatly debated nationwide, and at Hopkins alone, many teachers have actually been making less over the years.

ESP starting wages at MPS will now be close to $24 per hour.

“In terms of wages, this is a historical problem and the trouble of wages just not keeping up with costs of living in most professions,” Babine-Didden said. “Just in the past year, inflation is almost at 8%, and we worked for a wage increase of less than half of that percentage, so we, including many others, are actually making less.” 

MPS plans to increase their mental health support just as Hopkins has in recent years.

“One of the goals of the MFT was to increase mental health support for students because many of them are carrying trauma that classroom teachers are not trained for or equipped to handle,” Sateren-Burrow said. “They were able to get school psychologist caseloads reduced but only from one psychologist for every 1000 students down to 850 students. We need to do better.” 

These major changes and others will be slowly implemented at MPS, but a delay may be occurring with the recent resignation of MPS Superintendent Ed Graff. Graff’s term will end June 30 with an interim superintendent- that has yet to be chosen- to replace him till 2023. Graff’s resignation comes after unrest within the district and the area. Many had been petitioning for him to be removed from his position as they felt he was causing stagnation in the development of the district.

Sateren-Burrow has seen the changes and developments at MPS as a former student and current parent.

“I want to be optimistic that positive change will be felt by MPS families because I love the experience I had as an MPS student and what my two boys are experiencing in their classrooms and schools in Minneapolis,” Sateren-Burrow said. “I do worry, however, that staff do not feel like their voices are heard by the district when decisions are made, and I don’t want that to drive good teachers away from MPS.”