Understanding the proposed St. Paul teachers’ union contract

The Saint Paul Federation of Educators and the Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) district are currently negotiating a new contract. The union is asking for a $7,500 pay increase for all teachers, as well as a 7.5 percent pay raise in the second year of the contract. But there is more to these numbers than often gets discussed.

Let me preface this by saying I am very supportive of ensuring good teachers are paid at least a living wage and then some. (I taught in a state that pays teachers one of the lowest average teacher salaries in the country.) Educators play a key role in society and matter greatly.

But when talking about salary increases, especially when it deals with a collective bargaining contract and the potential for a union strike, it’s important to be clear about the numbers.

On the surface, the union’s proposed salary increases may seem reasonable, but a deeper dive into the numbers provides more clarity around them. Pay increases are built into the salary schedule for the first 20-or-so years of a teacher’s career. The $7,500 pay increase for year one and the 7.5 percent increase for year two would be on top of the salary increase formula already included in the existing union contract, commonly called the “step and lane” progression. I have yet to read about the union mentioning the fact that these built-in increases already exist. The average SPPS teacher salary was $87,250 during the 2022-23 school year, according to data from the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board (PELSB).

Step and lane schedules remain the most common salary structure for teachers. The “steps” in a teacher salary schedule are the number of years a teacher has been teaching, and the “lanes” are the level of education the teacher has. Under union salary schedules, teachers earn automatic raises for each additional year of experience up to the top of the scale and can also earn more money by pursuing additional education credits and degrees.

As a result, a school district’s salary costs rise every year. This automatic increase gets paired with whatever increase to the base salary the union negotiates with the district.

The union’s wage increase proposal combined with its other 45 proposals equate to roughly a $96 million gap between what the union wants and what the district is willing to spend, according to the Pioneer Press.

Teachers certainly have a right to ask the school district for higher wages and make their case to taxpayers, parents, and the school board. However, St. Paul residents and taxpayers deserve transparency around the actual increases teachers will see on their paychecks if the union’s proposed contract is adopted.


The next bargaining session between SPPS and the teachers’ union is scheduled for December 7.