Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

In historic contract cycle teachers saw highest raises, slowest pace to settle in 20 years

People walk with white signs.
People walk with their signs during a protest in support of lowering class sizes in 2023 at Rochester Public Schools in Rochester. Rochester teachers hosted the protest ahead of the regular Rochester School Board meeting.
Maya Giron | Post Bulletin

Updated June 11, 3:03 p.m. | Posted June 10, 5:54 p.m.

This week will be the last days of school for many Minnesota students and teachers. One conversation that has dominated education this school year is teacher contracts. Every public school district in Minnesota has the same 2-year contract cycle, meaning they all went to the bargaining table for their 2023-2025 contract.

It was a contentious year of negotiating. According to the State Bureau of Mediation Services, this year 81 school districts needed contract mediation, while last contract cycle in 2022, it was 62 school districts. Districts and unions are required by law to use state mediation when at an impasse with negotiations.

Both Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools also voted to authorize a strike but came to agreement before walking off the job.

Education Minnesota represents the teachers unions of every public school in the state. This contract cycle was the slowest pace of settlements in 20 years, when Education Minnesota began tracking data.

As of Monday, there are still six school districts who still don’t have an agreement: Fertile-Beltrami School District, Mountain Lake Public Schools, Nett Lake Public School District, Redwood Area School District, Tri-County School District and Waconia Public School District. 

“The fact that it is taking almost a year for all of these local unions to ratify their contracts or get a settlement, is somewhat surprising and somewhat concerning, considering the historic investments that we saw in our schools last legislative session,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota.

Specht said with summer around the corner, she hopes it will give the remaining districts incentive to come to a deal.

This contract cycle also saw the largest settlements of two-year contracts in at least 20 years. According to Education Minnesota the average salary increase for 2023-24 is 4.3 percent and for 2024-25, 3.5 percent, the largest pay increase some teachers will have ever gotten in their career.

Still, Education Minnesota believes the bottom line hasn’t changed much, due in part to rising health care costs.

“In many cases, those increases in compensation are passing straight through to the insurance companies, so nobody is really realizing any kind of increase in their household budgets,” said Specht.

Vince Wagner, president of the Rochester Education Association, said some teachers are forgoing district health coverage. Teachers are on the hook for a $4,500 employee premium and could pay up to $12,000 before reaching their maximum out-of-pocket expenses. The district pays a $28,000 employer premium, making the overall cost per teacher as high as $44,500.

“That's money that could be used for programming for students, lower class sizes, better salaries for teachers and education support professionals,” Wagner said.

Education Minnesota believes there is always room for improvement.

“There are all sorts of things that we can be doing in our contracts to create a better working environment, which creates a better learning environment for everybody,” said Specht.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.