There are signs that tempers are getting frayed in the tug-of-war over revamping the Minneapolis teacher contract.
Last board meeting, before the school board’s contract vote, normally affable board member Richard Mammen offered a point-by-point rebuttal (video link below) to an op-ed commentary that appeared in that day’s Star Tribune over the names of Lynnell Mickelsen and Bill English. They’re two leaders of the movement that’s been harping for contract reforms they say will help close the achievement gap.
It was clear that Mammen was irked, especially by the duo’s suggestion that the contract’s outcome showed that the four school board members elected in 2010 were bordering on collusion with the teacher union. Mammen has complained previously over references to the letter that Mammen, Jenny Arneson, Rebecca Gagnon and Alberto Monserrate signed on teacher union letterhead after their election.that said they hoped “to cultivate a district culture of trust, collaboration and shared responsibility” with the union, and accused incumbents on the board of creating ill wil with their negotiating stance. Mammen apologized for the “ill will” remark
After calling their remarks disrespectful to Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, Mammen continued: “I’ll race everybody here -- Lynnell Bill,all of you -- to the end of the achievement gap. You take your route; I’ll take mine.”
When English rejoined with, “We’ll beat you every time,” Mammen unloaded on him. “How’s The City doing?” he demanded, a reference to The City Inc., an alternative school with which English was involved that closed early last year. Pointing his finger, Mammen threw in a reference to English “on your way back to Plymouth,” the suburb where English lives.
“You’re attacking private citizens,” complained audience member and former board member Chris Stewart, who joined English and Mickelsen in observing many contract negotiation sessions until they were closed in February by a state mediator.
At that point, board Chairman Alberto Monserrate asserted control. “This is the kind of speech, this is the kind of rhetoric, that’s destroying this country,” he said, calling on everyone to quiet down and listen respectfully or face ejection. Mammen did not speak further.
Monserrate spoke last among board members. He contrasted district labor negotiations with the non-union climate at charter schools that were cited for their long school years and test scores by supporters of contract reforms. The school board can’t accomplish contract changes by decree, he said.
“This board pushed. There’s a reason this negotiation took longer than expected,” he said, arguing that it resulted in a progressive contract. Monserrate also said that now that the teacher contract was settled, recordings of the private meetings held by the board to discuss strategy in teacher talks would be released.
Afterward, English said he felt personally attacked. “I sleep in Plymouth. I live in Minneapolis,” said English, who said he owns property in Minneapolis and lived here for 43 years. He’s also long been involved in the trenches on the district achievement gap issue. That’s a contrast to some peers who show up mainly when the board is on cable TV. But Mammen also felt wronged. “If attacked, I will react,” he said. A week later, English said he's due an apologiy for "mean-spirited and disrespectful" remarks.
Mickelsen said board members get defensive when the Put Kids First group calls them on contract issues. “Despite all the rhetoric, they know that this is a pretty weak contract,” she said. “They’re human. They get tired.”
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