You all should have received an email last week about the most recent round of negotiations between the district and SPFE leadership. If you haven’t done so already, you can read that update on the spps.org/negotiations website, which is also where all of the district’s and SPFE’s proposals are publicly posted.
This process is trying and emotional, not only for those at the bargaining table, but for everyone who works for, attends, or is otherwise connected to Saint Paul Public Schools. In my heart of hearts, I know that every person involved wants to settle a fair and equitable contract that meets the needs of our 34,000 students, and is putting all of their energy into making that happen.
Our students’ needs continue to grow, which means all of you are working even harder to meet those needs. Meanwhile, our enrollment—and the money that comes along with it—has decreased by over 11% since 2015, to the tune of $28 million per year.
Several of our bargaining groups have reached contract agreements within the financial parameters approved by the Board of Education of 1.5% salary increases each year of a new two-year contract. Any investments above that amount come with a tradeoff. Spending $10 million on new staff, salaries or other benefits means taking $10 million away from somewhere else. We have a finite pool of resources, and our costs cannot exceed the money coming in.
The most recent two-year contract with SPFE expired on July 1, 2021. During the term of that contract, SPPS invested heavily in school support staff. Those investments have significantly reduced the ratios of students to mental health support staff, including counselors and social workers. As one example, the ratio of intervention specialists to students in the 2018-19 school year was one for every 1,014 students. Today that ratio is one intervention specialist for every 400 students.
Our investments in mental health supports are continuing with the use of ESSER and American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. From the ARP budget alone, we’ve allocated $22.8 million toward mental health services for students and staff, including partnerships with community-based providers, and training for staff on responding to trauma and culturally responsive social emotional learning.
SPPS is also investing millions in equity training for staff, recruitment and retention of teachers of color, multilingual staff and services, special education services, and other priorities that align with several of the proposals on the bargaining table. I encourage you to review the ARP Spending Brief on our website to see all of the investments we are making in our students and staff with these funds. Hand in hand with this influx of federal funding comes the responsibility to be good stewards of this short-term, one-time investment and not spend it on additional staff or initiatives that cannot be sustained.
I continue to advocate on behalf of SPPS in my role on the Council of the Great City Schools Executive Committee. Our collective legislative efforts this year amounted to nearly $10.5 million in additional funding for Saint Paul Public Schools. This Tuesday, I will testify at the Minnesota Legislature at the request of Rep. Kaohly Her about the HF 2944 bill that she authored, which would increase per pupil funding for students receiving English language support.
Locally, I have been a committed member of the executive leadership team for the City of Saint Paul All Ready For Kindergarten (SPARK), our effort to bring universal 3K/4K to all children in St. Paul. I believe SPPS is poised to deliver on this opportunity for our youngest children and welcome new families to our district. My goal with these and other city, state and federal efforts is to secure more sustainable revenue streams that will positively impact the downward enrollment and budgetary trends we’ve been facing since before my tenure began.
I have worked for 27 years in public schools, including as an EA, teacher, coach, assistant principal, assistant superintendent, and superintendent. My three children have graduated from districts I've led including a 2021 SPPS graduate. My entire life has been centered on service to children and communities, and that is why I am here today and every day. I am committed to honoring the promise we have made to our 34,000 students and settling a contract with our educators. I will continue to keep you informed as negotiations continue.
Joe Gothard, Superintendent