A proposed new contract for Minneapolis teachers will allow Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson to implement her autonomy-for-accountability proposal for selected schools, but gives teaches some redress when their classes are stuffed with more students than size limits call for.
The deal also gives the district new latitude to hire teachers earlier for hard-to-fill specialties and schools.
Neither the district nor the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has publicly disclosed the details of a tentative agreement reached 10 days ago on March 1. A summary of the proposal and selected sections were sent to teachers on Monday, and the Star Tribune obtained a copy. In contrast, St. Paul schools and teachers last month made key details public within three days of a deal.
Minneapolis teachers won’t vote on the deal until a month after it was negotiated, in contrast to 11 days in St. Paul. The Minneapolis board won’t formally vote until after teachers on April 8, but reviewed the proposal in private Tuesday.
“It is collaborative. It is progressive. It will makes a difference for students in schools,” board Chairman Richard Mammen said after the board adjourned.
Spokesman Stan Alleyne said the district deferred to union President Lynn Nordgren’s decision to share the pact with her members before the district makes the deal public. However, the district stance is somewhat ironic in light of Johnson's complaint last fall that by seeking state mediation the union was closing the process to the public. Former City Council President Paul Ostrow told the board Tuesday he was troubled that the only detail to leak before Tuesday so far has been the 2 percent annual cost-of-of-living raises, which he called the least important part of the negotiating agenda.
The deal is already generating pushback from some teachers. Some object to a clause that would loosen work rules for teachers at Johnson’s proposed “Partnership Schools.” They could work for up to 211 days, compared to 196 now.
These schools are a key element of Johnson’s efforts to reshape the district by granting schools working under a performance contract the ability to be flexible on matters such as curriculum, testing, time on the job, budget and other key features.
The proposal doesn’t specify how many partnership schools or when but Johnson has previously spoken of allowing 20-30 percent of district schools such freedom, a few next school year and more in the following two years.
On class size, the agreement calls for district targets to be set for schools but negotiators and other teachers have complained that often those are overridden by newly arrived students. The agreement calls in some circumstances for adding extra aides or teachers to crowded classes, for shifting students among grade-level teachers and for other remedies when targets are exceeded; teachers will have streamlined ability to seek relief from the district when their class exceeds the target.
For struggling schools, the district committed to a target of 18 students per K-3 grade classroom, down from the current 21. That will lessen a teacher’s workload, but it’s above the 13- to 17-student class size found in landmark Tennessee research to exert a marked improvement in primary grade student performance.
Those high-priority schools and hard-to-fill specialties would get an early hiring round designed to make the district more competitive for attracting talent. The agreement also cuts the number of teachers interviewed for each opening.
The agreement would also speed the process for dealing with struggling teachers through a mentored 45-day performance plan. It would also blend two time-consuming processes that teachers use to develop professionally and focus on student progress.
The agreement also calls for the district and union to jointly form a task force to sift through the standardized tests given students with an eye toward whether some can be dropped. It's suposed to make initial recommendaitons by the end of June for next school year. Teachers have complained about the amount of class time lost to outside testing, and some parents are opting their children out of tests.
The district hasn't yet made a cost estimate for the proposed pact. Besides the twin 2 percent pay hikes this year and next, many teachers are also eligible for raises based on longevity and college credits, while the district also increased its family health insurance contribution. The 2011-2013 contract increased district costs by almost 6.4 percent over a two-year period.
A group of pedestrian advocates are calling for improvements to a key intersection near Lake Calhoun in the wake of a death last month.
Caitlan Barton, 25, was fatally struck by a truck at the intersection of West Lake Street and Market Plaza (above) in mid-February. The city's pedestrian advisory committee had previously highlighted the triangle created by West Lake Street, Excelsior Boulevard and Market Plaza as a priority for improvements.
On Tuesday afternoon, the pedestrian advisory committee released a list of short-term and long-term improvements they would like to see in that area.
The area was already of particular importance for new Council Member Linea Palmisano because it is slated to receive a key light rail stop under the proposed Southwest line.
Their short-term recommendations include:
1. Remove right turn lanes on Lake Street in both directions to reduce pedestrian crossing distances by approximately 12 feet each. Potentially use temporary measures initially to restrict the lanes and monitor how traffic responds and then evaluate a permanent solution.
2. Review all signal timing to ensure that there is adequate time in the pedestrian phase to fully cross wide roadways. Add audible pedestrian signals and pedestrian countdown timers to improve pedestrian awareness.
3. Install continuous street and sidewalk lighting to ensure good visibility between pedestrians, bicyclists and vehicle drivers. The few existing lights on signal poles and other sporadic locations are insufficient for pedestrian visibility.
4. Improve intersection corner visibility by redesigning property corner treatments to minimize visual obstructions such as walls and fences.
5. Replace worn pavement crosswalk markings with new higher visibility and more durable markings.
6. Improve snow clearance enforcement and clearing on sidewalks, especially at corners.
7. Tighten curb radii for maximum pedestrian safety, eliminating sweeping right turns.
Over the long term, the committee would like to see wider sidewalks and more sidewalk amenities such as trees and lighting. They also encourage less car-dependent development in the future and eventually reconfiguring the area to eliminate its "acute geometry and complexity."
Here's a map (created by MPLS) of what some of those improvements might look like (zoom in):
Two programs in Minneapolis schools with track records of helping students stay in school and head to college are among the big winners in a proposed shift of how the district spends its state integration aid.
Under a proposal scheduled to go to the school board on Tuesday, the AVID and Check & Connect programs will get a significant expansion next school year. That shift reflects a greater emphasis in state law for integration aid toward student achievement, especially closing the achievement gap, in addition to the traditional priority of desegregating students by race and income.
AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) would get a 73 percent increase to $3.5 million in an expansion that’s projected to add 950 more students, bringing the total to 2,800 at 23 schools.
According to district research, AVID students are more likely than similar students to be on track to graduate, and have better attendance. Students of color in AVID do better on math and ACT score. For example, 80 percent of 2012 graduates who were in AVID enrolled in college, compared to 69 percent for non-AVIDs students
AVID is a program operating from fourth through 12th grades that works to prepare students described as the academic middle in the skills needed to go to a four-year college. It focuses on reading, writing, collaborating and inquiry skills. It’s aimed in particular at minority or low-income students from families without college experience.
Check & Connect works to establish adult-student connections that keep high school students enrolled, including monitoring attendance, grades and credits toward graduation. District research found Check & Connect students 10 percent more likely than similar students to graduate and also significantly less likely to drop out. The program was developed by the University of Minnesota, was introduced in two district high schools in 2003, expanded to all seven high schools in 2007, and expanded to four middle schools last school year.
Other winners under the proposed revamping of funding are programs to interest students in technical fields, where funding would more than double; funding for debate programs, which would double; and programs planned for winter and spring break next school year for lagging students, which would get almost $950,000.
The district’s integration aid is projected at $15.6 million next school year, an increase of 2.4 percent. Much of the increased spending on academic programs is being paid for by reducing funding for other programs previously supported by integration aid or shifting them to other parts of the budget. Those include $2.6 million to transport students to magnet schools, and $320,000 for Metro Transit bus passes for high school students.
A City Hall development panel was somewhat taken aback Thursday by a plan to build 759 parking stalls at a new residential project in the heart of downtown, an area where city plans generally discourage additional parking.
Developer Jim Stanton is proposing to build a 20-story condominium building on the corner of Hennepin and Washington Avenues, within walking distance of most major transit lines. The building would feature 360 condominiums and ground-level retail on what is now an empty lot.
Parking policy – particularly in transit-oriented areas – is of increasing concern for city leaders who hope to dramatically grow the city’s population without adding more cars on the street.
Unlike developments in the rest of Minneapolis, new residential buildings downtown have no minimum parking requirements. In fact, there is a maximum allowed parking of 1.6 stalls per unit. Stanton needs a variance to construct his 759 stalls (the bulk of them underground), almost all of which would serve residents of the building.
Stanton and his development team presented the plan to the city planning commission’s committee of the whole Thursday night. The parking proposal faced resistance from commissioners, who said they would prefer more of the stalls were available to the public and the neighborhood.
“In the future, if more families become single-car households or preferably they have bikes and rarely use a car, is there a plan in place for the parking, [for] some of it to become public?” asked commissioner Alissa Luepke Pier.
Stanton said probably not, since he sells the parking stalls along with the units. Luepke Pier suggested selling the units with one stall and making the other one optional. “I mean that’s a lot of parking.”
Council Member Lisa Bender, who chairs the council’s zoning and planning committee, said there are several policy reasons parking is capped downtown. “One policy argument for not allowing the additional parking in this place is because you’re taking space away from what could be units downtown,” Bender said.
But Stanton said his experience building downtown – he has constructed more than 700 units there – has taught him parking is crucial to selling the condos.
Some residents at his other properties, Bridgewater Lofts and Stonebridge Lofts, purchased only one parking spot, he said. “Now they try to sell their place and they’re coming to me: ‘Do you have any extra spots? Please, we’ll pay you $20,000 a spot if we can get a spot. We can’t sell our unit because we only have one parking spot.’ So that’s the dilemma I face.
“These people are buying and most of them are … empty nesters and professionals. And when they’ve got couples you’ll find one works on this side of town, and one works on another. I’m not against your mass transit. In fact, it’s great that you’ve got it. Hopefully some of the people use it.”
He added: “There’s a grievous concern about whether we could sell and I don’t want to be sitting there with empty units. They cost me money. Significant money.”
Bender countered that he will still sell the units if he lowers the amount of parking, though probably for less money.
“There are policy reasons that we’ve set a parking maximum downtown,” she said. “So parking is driving the architecture of a lot of these buildings. And it is also driving the price of housing. And it’s driving the amount of housing we get in buildings.”
The planning commission committee of the whole does not vote on projects. The next stop for Stanton’s project is the full planning commission, then on to the council’s zoning and planning committee.
Efforts to tame an onslaught of single-family home redevelopment in Southwest Minneapolis got some teeth Friday with a new moratorium on home demolitions in several neighborhoods.
Council Member Linea Palmisano on Friday proposed the moratorium -- which took effect on an interim basis immediately, pending further council action -- to allow the city to more carefully examine the city's regulations. If approved by the council, the moratorium would last for one year.
A primary concern among neighbors is lack of communication as builders rapidly tear down existing homes and replace them with much larger ones. Palmisano said that in the first week she took office, there were 20 applications pending in different stages of the demolition and rebuild process.
Since the homes often don't need variances, the redevelopments rarely rise to the level of discussion in a public meeting. But they're becoming exponentially more common in Ward 13, as shown in the blue line above.
“They have started tearing down houses and putting up new ones quickly, and they don’t at all look like the neighborhood," said Jim Tincher, president of the Fulton Neighborhood Association.
The moratorium applies to single- and two-family homes in Linden Hills, Fulton, Armatage, Kenny and Lynnhurst neighborhoods.
"The intent is to be able to give us some time to pause on just responding to fire after fire, while being able to study and get really good due process improvements," Palmisano said. "Right now our ability to enforce even our existing laws are disjointed.”
In a letter to neighbors, Palimsano said they need builders to comply with regulations surrounding noise, dumpsters, idling, shoveling and parking. "And we need to bring greater environmental sensitivity to these projects," Palmisano wrote.
The proposed ordinance says the city is interested in studying nuisance and safety issues with new construction, as well as the negative effects on the "urban forest, lakes and shorelands, and on stormwater infrastructure." The city is also studying possible fixes that could be made in the zoning code.
Here is the proposed ordinance:
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