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The Minneapolis School District will have to pay out almost $17 million to teachers and support staff after a state arbitrator ruled that the employees were unjustly denied raises and merit pay for two years.
The windfalls will deal a blow to the cash-strapped district, forcing cuts to the $525 million general fund budget. "We have financial issues anyway," district spokesman Stan Alleyne said. "This definitely makes it more difficult."
Citing budget problems, the district declined to pay salary schedule raises and merit pay to teachers under the alternative compensation program known as Quality Compensation for Teachers, or Q-Comp, during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years.
Arbitrator Sharon Imes found that the decision was made without sufficient reason. The district will pay $14 million to settle its debt to teachers, Alleyne said.
In a separate ruling, arbitrator Jeffrey Jacobs found that the district failed to provide raises to support staff after their contract expired in summer 2009.
The staff, which includes teacher aides, child care workers and bilingual assistants, is due roughly $2.8 million in back pay. District staff members have not determined when the payouts will happen or how many employees will benefit, Alleyne said.
Both the teachers and support staff are represented by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.
"For us, it really was a matter of principle," said Lynn Nordgren, union president. "We're not trying to be greedy at all."
The arbitrator's ruling is the second setback for Minneapolis schools in their ongoing contract dispute with the teachers union: In January, the district paid a fine of about $800,000 for failing to meet the state's contract deadline.
District leaders may fight back. The district's lobbyist recommends that in the coming legislative session, board members urge legislators to eliminate the contract deadline and penalty. Amending state law to prevent pay increases once a contract expires is another high priority.
The district's approach is decidedly anti-union, Nordgren said.
"There seems to be a heavy push to crush unions," she said. "That has made the relationship more tense. There are some philosophical differences."
Despite their differences, both sides have agreed to resume negotiations next week after several months of stalemate.
School board chairman Tom Madden doesn't expect a resolution before his term ends in January. He said that the union wants raises the district just can't afford.
The union believes "money's going to fall from the sky," fellow board member Chris Stewart said.
Union members will wait out the current school board and its departing leadership, in hopes that the new board members are more responsive to teacher demands, Stewart has said.
Nordgren denied the claim.
"Everybody has good intentions," she said. "We just have different ideas on how we get there."
Corey Mitchell • 612-673-4491