St. Paul schools, union detail teacher contract

  • Article by: DAAREL BURNETTE II , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 7, 2012 - 11:25 PM

Approval would bring small raise and more peer reviews.

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St. Paul schools Superintendent Valeria Silva.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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St. Paul public school teachers will receive a 0.5 percent cost-of-living raise, more frequent evaluations by their peers and the promise of smaller class sizes when possible, according to a tentative contract reached by teachers and administrators.

Speaking publicly about negotiations for the first time Tuesday, Superintendent Valeria Silva and teachers union President Mary Cathryn Ricker said the effort required balancing limited funds and meeting increased demand from state legislators and the public for better teachers.

Negotiations between the two groups -- made up of teachers, lawyers and administrators -- lasted for eight months before the tentative agreement was reached last week.

The 51-page contract outlines 21 points regarding how the district's 3,400 teachers will be held accountable, trained and promoted in the next two years.

"This is one of the most modest settlements with the most ambitious goals for teaching and learning I've been involved with," Ricker said.

Teachers will hear the contract's key points this week and vote on the contract Monday, Ricker said. The district's school board is expected to vote on the proposal on Feb. 21. If approved, the contract will be retroactive to June 30.

A new evaluation system that will dispatch specially trained teachers across the district to mentor, train and grade their peers is one of the contract's most significant points, Ricker said.

Those evaluations will be considered along with those of administrators when decisions are made to fire, promote or give tenure to a teacher.

Silva said a recent trial of the program, referred to as Peer Assisted Review, led to fewer disputes between union officials and administrators before a teacher's firing.

"We agreed to create a teaching and learning model of evaluation that's not the stereotypical gotcha model," Silva said.

St. Paul will become one of the state's first districts to include the teacher peer reviews in its contract, according to union and education officials.

Silva said the new system will satisfy requirements recently passed by state legislators to evaluate teachers annually on test scores and other measurements.

Minimal raise

The 0.5 percent cost-of-living wage increase for each of the next two years is half the raise teachers received after the last round of negotiations in 2010. Under the new terms, a teacher who makes $50,000 a year will receive $250 more.

Last summer, facing a $25million budget deficit, administrators laid off 345 employees, several of whom were teachers.

In another move to retain quality teachers, the contract stipulates that those at the district's Montessori, language immersion and American Indian magnet schools will not be laid off and replaced based on seniority. Because those teachers have special licenses and go through unique training, they are harder to replace and the hiring process is different, Silva said.

Class size was one of the most contentious issues during negotiations, Ricker and Silva said.

In the end, they agreed as part of a special "Memorandum of Agreement" that if the district can afford it, class sizes will be kept on the "lower range" of numbers approved as part of the district's Strong Schools Strong Communities strategic plan.

The union's executive board unanimously agreed last week to recommend that teachers ratify the agreement.

Silva, who served as a negotiator, said she realized the district has a lot of work to do to build trust between administrators and teachers.

"I know our teachers want what's best for students," she said. "We're here to work together."

Daarel Burnette II • 651-925-5032 Twitter: @DaarelStrib

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