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As Gothard announces departure, teachers poised to strike

In a tumultuous day for St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) on February 26, Superintendent Joe Gothard announced he is leaving the district while the St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) informed the district they intended to go on strike March 11.

Gothard, who has been superintendent of SPPS since 2017, announced he would be taking over leading the Madison, Wis. school district this summer.

The Board of Education said they are working to create a transition plan and name an interim superintendent to lead the district during their search for a new leader.

This comes amidst a prolonged labor negotiation with SPFE, the largest union representing educators in the district. SPFE and SPPS leaders have been negotiating their new contract for months, agreeing in December to mediation. 

At issue in the contract negotiations are wages, health benefits and classroom support for teachers like size limits, restorative practices and student mental health support. SPPS claims that much of the impasse comes from a $107.7 million budget shortfall projected for next year.

On February 15, SPFE members overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike, allowing the union to give the district 10-day notice if they planned to walk the picket lines. Union officials informed the district on February 26 of their intent to strike, which would not begin before March 11.

If district educators cannot reach agreement on a new contract before March 11, all pre-K-12 classes will be canceled along with most before and after school activities. In addition, the school year could be extended if the strike drags on for multiple days or weeks.

SPPS said that free breakfast and lunch would still be available for pickup at schools during the strike.

2024 marks the fourth time out of four labor negotiations the union has authorized a strike in Gothard’s tenure as superintendent. A strike was averted in 2018 and 2022 with last minute agreements between the district and the union, with the lone strike happening in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit and closed schools until the following year.
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