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St. Paul teachers union, district reach tentative deal

By CHRISTOPHER MAGAN, St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — After a marathon 24-hour negotiating session, St. Paul Public School officials struck a deal Friday with teachers union leaders, avoiding the threat of the district’s first teachers strike in nearly 70 years.

Details of the tentative agreement will not be announced until Monday afternoon, but it appears union leaders and district officials were able to find common ground around several proposals that had mired talks after nine months.

“We have a tentative contract agreement!” Superintendent Valeria S. Silva said Friday morning on Twitter. “Time now to rest, clear our side walks (again), and get back into classrooms on Monday!”

St. Paul schools were closed Friday after a snowstorm.

The two sides announced the tentative deal for a 2013-15 contract in a joint news release. A strike authorization vote scheduled for Monday was canceled.

“Though this has been a long and difficult process, both parties learned just how passionate we both are about the education of St. Paul’s students,” Silva said in a statement. “I’m pleased that this tentative agreement strengthens the partnership between the school district and our teachers.”

Union President Mary Cathryn Ricker said she was “inspired” by how teachers, parents and students came together behind the union’s contract proposal. “I am also grateful for the commitment of our bargaining team, the district’s bargaining team, and the board of education to making progress for the schools and our students deserve,” Ricker said.

The two sides negotiated for nine months in sometimes tense sessions. Eventually, they turned to a state mediator and union leaders scheduled a Feb. 24 vote to ask members to authorize a strike.

Talks stalled over union proposals to cap class sizes, eliminate state achievement tests, expand preschool offerings and hire more support staff. District leaders said they supported many of these ideas, but the union’s proposals were too costly.

In their statement Friday, the two sides said they had reached an agreement on many of those points including class sizes, the role of state tests and the expansion of preschool. The deal also includes a pay and benefits package.