From showing really bad teachers the door quicker to creating a new subset of schools with an emphasis on results, not how they’re achieved, the contract proposal in the hands of Minneapolis teachers could create some notable changes in how schools run.
The new Partnership Schools concept first touted by Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson in a speech last May on changing how the district does business will mean big changes for participating schools.
They can get slack from the district on matters ranging from how many hours and days students and teachers spend in school to how teachers teach to state standards to how they spend their budget to how straggling students get help. They’ll even not be required to follow the district’s focused instruction curriculum. But they’ll have to meet academic performance targets to keep that flexibility.
The district plans to launch the first such school next fall when Cityview school reopens. But No. 2 administrator Michael Goar said this week he’s still hoping the district can add another. Both reopening buildings, and existing schools with an interest in gaining greater school-level flexibility for performance standards, will be considered as potential partners.
In one example of how things could change, teachers could propose working up to 211 days annually, including some training days, compared to a norm of 196. But the district didn’t prevail on its early negotiation proposal that teachers in such schools move up the salary scale faster.
All this assumes that teachers vote to accept the contract proposal. Some express concern about a clause would allow the district to axe a teacher it judges low-performing after just 45 days of working with a mentor to improve. The district said that now takes three to nine months. Alternatives to firing would include improving enough to stay with or without continued assistance, or shifting to another school if there’s a personality conflict or a misfit academically.
But Lynn Nordgren, president of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, said she expects only two to three teachers a year to go through the expedited process. Some improve earlier in the process of mentor-guided intervention steps, while others are either counseled out of the profession or come to that decision on their own, she said.
Another issue for some teachers is a clause that gives the district the right to early posting of teacher openings in specialties or at schools that have trouble attracting applicants. Those jobs could be filled ahead of the normal two rounds in which teachers axed for budget reasons from schools and those seeking a shift of schools interview for openings.
The district says that posting those openings early means that it has a better shot at hiring more qualified applicants before they’re hired by competing districts who can make a firm offer earlier. The agreement commits the district and union to developing efforts to hire and keep teachers in 16 struggling schools, but doesn’t specifically offer extra pay, a possibility the district floated last summer in negotiations but teacher negotiators called degrading to schools.
The district set a class-size target in those struggling of 18 students in grades K-3, down from 21. That’s a $2.2 million commitment, the district said.
But there are no absolutes in those or regular schools, with Goar saying the district won’t bargain class size. The revamped contract gives teacher frustrated by having extra students above the targets crammed into their classrooms during the year a lifeline to a district hotline that would need to respond within five days. But there’s no guarantee of relief.
For a teacher in a stuffed classroom in a school without room to expand, the district said it would work with the union on adding aides, redistributing students among teachers, adding a second teacher for part of the day, or other remedies.
The district abandoned a proposal to bump the number of teaching days by four to at least 180, or four more. Instead, it’s shifting to a targeted strategy to add days selectively for struggling students at the winter and spring breaks, and over the summer, using teachers willing to be paid for their extra time. The drawback to that proposal is that attendance is optional for students.
It also didn’t prevail on a proposal that it be able to retain what it judges to be superior teachers outside their seniority order in the case of layoffs.
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.
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.
Minneapolis teachers would earn at least 2 percent increases for this year and next under a proposed labor deal that has yet to be acted on by either side.
"It's pretty much what the board was comfortable with," said Rebecca Gagnon, who chairs the school board's finance committee.
Those increases represent salary scale adjustments, before any additional money a teacher would earn from moving up the pay scale for additional experience or education. The district negotiated cutbacks in the rate at which a teacher gains those increases in the current contract.
That pay raise would be the first general increase in the cost of living granted to teachers in at least four years. However, many teachers saw their pay increase by $3,090 in the last contract in exchange for increasing the length of the school year by four days and the non-teaching part of their school day by 15 minutes.
The size of the salary hike is the only concrete detail to emerge since a tentative agreement was announced Saturday night. The district said Tuesday it doesn't plan to release terms until at least after the board considers the deal in private next Tuesday, and then only if it finds the deal satisfactory. In contrast, the St. Paul district and its teacher union released a summary of highlights three days after reaching a deal. That two-year contract included a general increases of 2.25 percent and 2 percent.
The Minneapolis board doesn't expect to vote on the proposal until sometime in April, after a teacher vote the district said it expects to be held during the first week of April after spring break. That couldn't be confirmed with the teacher federation immediately.
The size of the raises was disclosed, perhaps inadvertently, when a member of a board committee sought assurance that they would fit within next year's proposed $541 million budget.
Minneapolis teachers are paid an average salary of $65,224 this school year, according to data posted by the Minnesota Department of Education. That's third highest in the state, behind St. Paul's $65,840 and $67,848 in the Rosemount district. A district's average is affected not only by its salary scale, but also by the relative level of experience and education of its teaching staff.
The current Minneapolis pay scale starts a teacher with a bachelor degree and no teaching experience at $39,147, and tops out at just under $98,000, a level that few teachers reach.
With agreement last week on a new St. Paul teacher contract and progress Thursday in the Anoka-Hennepin talks, there are signs that the noticeably quieter Minneapolis teacher talks could wrap up in the next few days.
Negotiators met Thursday and Friday and were scheduled to meet again Saturday. If they reach a tentative agreement soon, that would be the earliest pact in at least three rounds of bargaining covering six contract years.
“Making great progress -- looks like we are getting very close,” Lynn Nordgren (right), president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, wrote in a text message on Friday. She said both sides came to negotiations willing to listen and openly discuss issues. “We believe we came to some good solid agreements as a result.”
School Board Chairman Richard Mammen agreed. “Teachers and administration are meeting as we speak and seem very intent on coming to a conclusion very soon. The reports I’ve had is that we’re making good progress. I’m optimistic that we’ll have something in hand to consider soon.”
Unlike St. Paul, where union leaders scheduled a strike authorization vote, and Anoka-Hennepin, where teachers have been working to the letter of their contract, the Minneapolis union has eschewed such public tactics in favor of working with the assistance of a state mediator. Talks have been closed since October after the union sought mediation. The most heated moment came when normally diplomatic Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson blasted the mediation request.
The tenor this time has been a particularly sharp contrast to the 2009-2011 round when it took 18 months, an arbitration and teachers flexing their muscles by parading through a board meeting to express their displeasure over no contract. That two-year contract was approved less than six months before it expired. Negotiations for the 2011-2013 contract didn't reach a tentative agreement until late March, meaning any agreement covering 2013-2015 reached now would beat that by several weeks.
The Minneapolis contract probably has gotten more scrutiny than any other teacher contract in the state from those who style themselves school reform advocates, who showed up at many of the pre-mediation bargaining sessions. A college group calling itself Students For Education Reform protested the closing of mediated bargaining but so far has not gotten legislation introduced to change the mediation commissioner's discretion to close sessions.
Talks started in June, shortly after Johnson (left) sketched priorities in a May speech to civic leaders. She asked for more flexibility from teachers in their contract, including agreement to go ahead with what she calls partnership schools, which would get more autonomy but be accountable for achieving performance standards. She also laid out such negotiating priorities as more teaching time, hiring flexibility, fiscal restraint and opportunities for teachers to assume more leadership.
A union response called for smaller classes, more student services, less testing, more hiring more time to plan classes, and more culturally relevant lessons. Early talks produced agreement to open Cityview school building as one of Johnson's partnership schools, but that later fizzled for other reasons. Teachers also agreed to apply to the state for $9 million under an alternative teacher compensation program, and that money was awarded.
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