From classroom trends to school board decisions, Class Act will keep you updated on all the school issues followed by the Star Tribune’s education reporters. Contributors include Steve Brandt, who covers Minneapolis; Kim McGuire, who covers the west metro; Erin Adler, who covers the south metro; Anthony Lonetree and Libor Jany, who cover St. Paul and the east metro, and Paul Levy and Shannon Prather, who cover the north metro.

Minority leaders call for Minneapolis teachers union to reopen contract talks to the public

Posted by: Kim McGuire Updated: September 25, 2013 - 6:29 PM

A coalition of African American community leaders denounced the recent request by the union representing Minneapolis teachers to send contract talks into mediation, which effectively closes negotiations to the public.

"This is insufferable, intolerable, and it will not go unnoticed," said Chris Stewart, executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) and former school board director.

The group insisted that Minneapolis Federation of Teachers reconsider its request for mediation, saying the public had a right to be a part of the negotiation process since the contract would ultimately impact every student enrolled in the district.

They argued that too much was at stake - particularly in light of the state's achievement gap between minority and white students - to have those important conversations occur without public scrutiny.

"People deserve a seat at the table, to be part of the conversation about how much money should be spent on our children," said Don Samuels, a city councilman running for mayor.

Contract talks began in June. The request for mediation came more than four months earlier than it did in the last round of bargaining in 2011-2012. Then, union members asked for mediation in February.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said she was frustrated that most of the previous negotiating sessions were focused on issues outside of the contract and that both sides only recently had begun discussing key issues.

For Minneapolis Public Schools, those issues are staffing flexibility, teacher quality, strengthening low-performing schools and more learning time for teachers and students.

The union has emphasized class sizes, childhood development, school leadership, wraparound social services, planning time and benefits of play time.

Stewart, whose group has been monitoring contract talks, said negotiations were just beginning to hone in on important issues facing the district such as how to help struggling schools when the teachers union asked for mediation.

"The only reason to close negotiations is so you can hide important details to the public," Stewart said.

Union leaders have said they thought the talks weren't yielding much progress and that mediation was the best way to move forward. Attempts to reach MFT President Lynn Nordgren were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Some of members of the group cited past requests for mediation that closed contract talks.

"We have been spit on and we won't tolerate it," said Rev. Randolph Staten, head of the Coalition of Black Churches.
 

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