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Despite blackout, teacher contract details revealed

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government Updated: March 11, 2014 - 9:55 PM

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.

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