Minneapolis schools and teachers reach 2-year deal

Contract negotiations are over after seven months, but no details were released. Final approval is possible by mid-April.

After seven months of negotiations, the Minneapolis public schools and the local teachers union have tentatively reached an agreement on a two-year contract.

Neither side was willing Thursday to disclose details of the agreement, which must now be ratified teachers and ultimately approved by the school board. Final approval is expected in mid-April, school officials said.

"I think both sides are pleased," said Stan Alleyne, communications chief for Minneapolis schools.

Alleyne said the district anticipates releasing a broad summary of the contract next week -- after teachers have an opportunity to talk to their union leaders about the agreement. Attempts to reach representatives of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers on Thursday were unsuccessful.

Negotiations for a two-year contract took place in a more-charged environment than normal.

Put Kids First Minneapolis, a group hoping to change the way teachers are hired, assigned and evaluated, pushed both sides to accept a number of contract reforms. Among their demands: longer work days for teachers in struggling schools; an end to using seniority in hiring and firing decisions, and basing teacher evaluations in part on how much students learn.

But leaders of that group felt the board's hand for contract changes was undercut because four school board members took a pro-union stance in the last round of contract bargaining, when they were newly elected and before they had taken office.

Lynnell Mickelsen, the co-founder of Put Kids First, objected to the fact that school officials had no immediate plans to discuss the details of the contract.

"The teachers wouldn't accept that from their union leaders," she said. "Why should we accept that from the school board? They're supposed to represent the public."

The district pushed hard for a longer work year for all teachers, especially at schools with poor student test scores. It wanted teachers at those schools to spend more time in training and to spend nine more days in class. It wanted teachers to make a multi-year commitment to stay at those underperforming schools along with other changes to lessen staff turnover at them.

The union sought smaller classes in low-scoring schools and pushed for changes across the district to restructure teacher training and teamwork and to clear away outmoded district initiatives.

Contract talks began in September, but the tentative agreement lags well behind other big districts. St. Paul teachers reached an agreement Jan. 31, and Anoka-Hennepin teachers reached a pact with their district in October. More than half the state's districts have settled their contracts.

The Minneapolis delay may in part be the legacy of a bruising last round of contract bargaining, in which teachers worked for more than a year without a contract. They also had to win an arbitration hearing to get the board to release the pay increases for education and experience that they normally accrue.

kim.mcguire@startribune.com 612-673-4469 sbrandt@startribune.com 612-673-4438

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