The conservative Freedom Foundation of Minnesota is calling on Gov. Mark Dayton to propose a change in state public employee labor law to require that mediated talks be open.
The foundation stated: "The minutiae of collective bargaining negotiations may seem unlikely to provide riveting drama, but the stakes are very high for parents, students, taxpayers, and the public education system."
The matter hasn't been on Dayton's radar and it currently doesn't have a position on the issue, said Bob Hume, Dayton's deputy chief of staff. Prospects for such a proposal would appear doubtful in a DFL-controlled Legislature. State mediators have closed mediation sessions since at least 1984, according to Josh Tilsen, the state commissioner of mediation services.
The state's Public Employment Labor Relation Act requires that labor contract negotiations for public employees be held in public, except that mediated sessions may be closed at the discretion of the mediation commissioner. The bureau supplies mediators to try to help employers and the unions representing their workers to reach agreement in reaching contracts or resolving grievances.
The bureau's policy under governors of three parties has been to close public employer negotiations after the entry of a mediator. Tilsen said he feels that makes it easier to reach agreement because there is less posturing to the public. Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson criticized the union's mediation request after about a dozen public face-to-face sessions with district negotiators. Federation President Lynn Nordgren said she believes that a mediator helps both sides make progress faster.
But foundation Vice President Jonathan Blake calls that argument condescending and said that under the same rationale, all negotiations would be closed.
The closure of negotiations has frustrated those who style themselves school reformers, who want to be able to follow district proposals to change the teacher contract, and minority advocates who want to see changes aimed at reducing the racial achievement gap. They argue that the union wants to be outside public srutiny when it resists district proposals for contract changes.
The district is proposing to create new partnership schools, where there's more teacher leadership and more flexibility in exchange for accountability. It also wants to be able to fill openings earlier to hire the best outside candidates, and to offer incentives to teachers to go to and remain at low-performing schools, where teachers often have less experience.
(Photo: Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.)
With a cost that nearly tripled from conception to opening day, the Lowry Avenue Bridge may be a little rich for some folks' blood at $104 million, but it's drawing praise from one industry publication.
Roads and Bridges magazine named the crossing that opened last year as one of the top 10 new bridges nationally. The Illinois-based publication, which uses engineering difficulty as its prime criterion, labeled the span over the Mississippi River eye-catching.
The magazine noted the bridge's long-lasting, color-shifting LED lights and an underground sand filter to treat water running off the bridge as notable features, along with fitting it into a tight footprint.
The bridge has built for Hennepin County and reopened a crossing that was closed due to a shifting pier in 2008, and demolished a year later.
A Minneapolis school board member apologized Wednesday for how she worded comments regarding Southwest students while she argued at a board meeting last week against expanding the school.
"Building how many more classrooms for high school, when 50 percent, when the most important kids we want to invest in aren't there," Carla Bates said in part, prompting some pushback from Southwest parents.
"I went back to my statement and went, 'wow.!" Bates said after issuing a statement clarifying her intent. She said she apologized because she didn't want the reaction to how she made her point to undermine the legitimacy of her arguments against the expansion proposal.
"I don't want to become a lightning rod for, "see, the district really doesn't like Southwest'" Bates said in an interview.
"I first of all want to assure everyone that I am a strong advocate for all our children in all parts of the city," she said.
Southwest, which has the smallest share of low-income students among the district's seven big high schools, leads those schools in graduation rate, ACT scores, and going on to college. The school enrolled a count of 1,662 students, and district administrators proposed a 450-student addition to the school at an very preliminary estimated cost of $47 million. Some parents also have questioned that approach to handling an expected enrollment bulge in southwest Minneapolis
Bates argued that investment in added school space doesn't make sense when so much learning is shifting online. She also argued that Washburn is a more appropriate site for an addition because of its more central location and the size of the campus it shares with Ramsey Middle School. And she suggested that improvements at Roosevelt High School, which have yet to show up in the district's statistical measures of performance, will draw more students there. "I think Roosevelt is poised to become one of the best schools in the city," she said. That might require redrawing the Washburn-Southwest boundary, she added in an interview, but they could be phased in.
Bates cited several factors in an interview that make her optimistic about Roosevelt;good leadership, engaged staff, a strong IB with diverse composition.
"I think that putting $40 million at Southwest is looking backward instead of looking forward," Bates said at the board meeting. "I'm very concerned, very very very concerned, about the Southwest proposal because of the money, because of the location of the school, because of how secondary [school] is changing." .
(Update: The middle-grades Spanish immersion program should remain at Anweatin Middle School, the district told parents of immerison students Tuesday night.
That reverses a revised recommendation that district planners made to their board just last week to shift the program to the Wilder building on the South Side from the current North Side site. Some parents wanted a site that more accessible by bus from the South Side, where the bulk of immersion students reside. But others at Anwatin pushed back (see below).
The immerison program will bring a district-estimated 225 to 250 students to the school if a proposed expansion of the program to Sheridan school in northeast Minneapolis is approved. That expansion would help offset a loss of some students feeding to Anwatin from Bethune, who would go to Franklin Middle School. The district said that students from adjacent Bryn Mawr elementary would continue to feed Anwatin, along with Internaitonal Baccalaureate students from Whittier school.)
There's been pushback from the city's northern third recently on a proposed enrollment plan recently in two areas of concern -- the proposed shift of the district middle-school Spanish immersion program out of Anwatin Middle School, and the future of North High School.
Both were topics Monday night when the district opened a series of geographic meetings with parents, this time the North Side.
District representatives hinted that a change in the immersion proposal could be unveiled Tuesday night at another parent meeting at Windom. The district has immersion elementaries at Emerson and Windom schools, and wants to open a third that would share Sheridan. The district last month proposed keeping the middle school program at Anwatin and making Roosevelt the pathway high school for Spanish immersion, But it revised that this month to propose sending immersion students to the South Side's Wilder building for middle school, responding to a concern about making the program more geographically compact.
That prompted an outcry from some Anwatin parents who felt the revised program undercut their school both by shifting 150 immersion students, and by routing some elementary students that now feed Anwatin to a reopened Franklin Middle School. Parent Kimberlee Martinez brought a poster-size map to make her point that the district zone serving the north and northeast Minneapolis is short-changed on Spanish immersion. It does have the city's only French immersion district school.
The school board also got an earful last week from North High School boosters, who wanted to know when the second small academy to operate in that school is going to debut. Several advocated for a revival of the science and math-focused Summa Tech that North used to offer in the days before the advent of STEM (science tech engineering math) programs. Area Associate Superintendent Michael Thomas reassured them that a medical, science and tech program was proposed to open at North in 2015 for up to 500 students, in cooperation with the Institute for Student Achievement, the consultant helping the district with its arts and communication academy now in its second year at North.
North advocates now have a key advocate in board member Kim Ellison, who earlier served on the community committee that several years ago recommended alternatives to a proposal then to close North.
The district was also peppered with questions about what it's doing to strengthen Olson Middle School, as a feeder for Henry High School. One plan is to reopen a prek-5 community school at Cityview that's compatible with Henry and Edison High School International Baccalaureate programs. Cityview would also house a relocated French immersion program.
(Photo: Anwatin Middle School and Bryn Mawr elementary are tucked in an area between Interstate 394 and Bassett Creek)
Things got somewhat heated Tuesday night, when the details of voting for a new school board member weren't immediately released by the board, but there's a bit of a back story.
The board's chair, Alberto Monserrate (right), said only that the winner for the District 3 seat had gotten a majority, without further details. Monserrate said he was just following the procedure the board used when it voted at the end of 2011 to fill another board vacancy.
That didn't satisfy some partisans favoring Ubah Jama for the latest vacancy, most notably activist Al Flowers Jr. When Monserrate said details of the vote would be released later, Flowers kept talking, causing Monserrate to declare a 13-minute recess to cool things off. With a crowded meeting agenda, the delay helped to delay the board's ultimate adjournment that evening to 11:30.
That's not unprecedented. He did the same thing last summer when a group of parents from a charter the district was evicting got overheated at a board meeting.
Although the board usually votes orally, because it was using ranked-choice voting, it used written ballots in which the applicants were ranked were ranked first through fourth. It used the same procedure to name Kim Ellison to fill the last vacancy.
What grated on some was that even partial results of who voted for whom weren't released for almost an hour, and then only via e-mail to two reporters. The full rankings weren't released until a reporter requested them the next day. Monserrate said the rankings could have come out quicker if matters hadn't gotten so tense.
"You learn every time," he said later in the week. "You learn and adjust."
The top two candidates for the seat were Mohamud Noor, who got the job on a 5-3 vote, and Ubah Jama. Noor gave by far the most polished performance at the board's interviews, but may have been hampered by a perception of carpetbagging. He and his family live in a northeast Minneapolis house, but Noor moved into a room in Cedar-Riverside just soon enough to meet the board's residency requirement for District 3. He said they plan to buy a home in the Seward neighborhood.
Jama was a sentimental choice as the widow of Hussein Samatar, whose death caused the vacancy, and brought the most supporters to speak for her in the board's comment period. Some saw her as best representing Somali-American women who are single heads of household.
Two board members who favored Jama, Tracine Asberry and Carla Bates, lowballed Noor by giving him a third ranking. One Noor supporter, Kim Ellison, did the same for Jama.
Here are the rankings by board members: Monserrate: Noor, Jama, Ira Jourdain, Nicque Mabrey; Richard Mammen: Noor, Jama, Mabrey, Jourdain; Rebecca Gagnon: Jama, Noor, Jourdain, Mabrey; Asberry: Jama, Jourdain, Noor, Mabrey; Bates: Jama, Jourdain, Noor, Mabrey; Jenny Arneson: Noor, Jama, Jourdain; Josh Reimnitz: Noor, Jama, Jourdain, Mabrey; Ellison: Noor, Jourdain, Jama, Mabrey.
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