Minneapolis teachers union picks first brief moment of “normalcy” to strike, leaving parents scrambling

Just as schools returned to some semblance of normalcy, teachers at Minneapolis Public Schools hit the picket lines on Tuesday, demanding better wages and “safe and stable schools,” while…

Just as schools returned to some semblance of normalcy, teachers at Minneapolis Public Schools hit the picket lines on Tuesday, demanding better wages and “safe and stable schools,” while Minneapolis parents are scrambling to figure out arrangements for their children yet again. 

The teachers union and the district remain far from an agreement, according to leaders on both sides. Along with wages and safety, caps on class sizes and more mental health services for students appear to be high on teachers’ list of demands.

In a district with almost 30,000 students, an extended walkout would mean a traumatic return for parents to balancing child care and their own work as they did during the pandemic. 

What’s worse is the impact on the children: The staggering effect of these disruptions on academic development is well documented by now, not to mention the toll it takes on students’ mental health. But that hasn’t stopped the union from disrupting the education of tens of thousands in the city, while ironically calling for more mental health services for students. 

Talks quickly broke down between the two sides on Wednesday afternoon, after which Greta Callahan, the teacher chapter president of the union said, “They keep forgetting who’s in control now. And it’s not them anymore.”

While the union asserts who is “in control,” parents are left feeling uncertain about the future. After persevering for nearly two years during the pandemic, many parents are out of resources, options and patience.

“We all have real jobs,” Molly Dengler, co-president of the parent-teacher association at her son’s school, told ABC News. Her son attends a Spanish immersion elementary school in downtown Minneapolis. “Maybe today they could call out of work, but it’s not sustainable to keep calling out of work,” she said, adding that her PTA is doing everything it can to help keep parents informed and connected.

Some fortunate families, like the Altmans, have options. They tell ABC News that they are sending their third-grade daughter for a day camp featuring various activities in science and technology. Work-from-home arrangements, willing grandparents and “a lot of resources available” to them means that a walkout is just a minor bump in the road. However, they know their situation is atypical, and they consider themselves lucky. 

Other families, like the Spurlins, are worried about mounting child care costs. They say their 6-year-old twins are in kindergarten at the same Spanish immersion school as Dengler’s. Mark Spurlin said child care would cost around $50-60 per boy per day, an unwelcome extra cost considering that the price of just about every other necessity in life is skyrocketing. 

An indefinite strike would be detrimental to the Spurlins and thousands of families just like them. “I could take a leave of absence, which would be unpaid, to stay home with the boys, but that would be difficult to do,” Spurlin said. 

One of the big sticking points in the talks is about wages. District Superintendent Ed Graff pointed to a $26 million dollar budget shortfall the district is already facing for next year, while the union’s proposal would cost roughly $166 million annually beyond the current budget. 

The shortfall would have been $97 million if not for one-time federal funding. And it doesn’t help that the district has lost around 3,000 students in the course of the pandemic. 

“We have all these priorities that we want to have happen. And we don’t have the resources. And someone’s got to be able to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t do it,'” Graff said.

Kim Ellison, the Minneapolis school board chair, echoed Graff’s point: “We can’t spend money we don’t have.” On this, it seems, parents and the school district agree.