It's been a long, bumpy ride, but the state's third-largest school district is finally on the verge of joining the Minnesota alternative teacher pay program known as Q Comp.
The Minneapolis school board on Tuesday night unanimously approved a proposal jointly developed with its teachers union. If teachers also ratify the proposal this month, the district will stand to gain more than $9 million, most of it new state aid. That will be aimed at helping them become more effective as teachers, according to Paul Hegre, the district's point person for Q Comp, which is short for Quality Compensation for Teachers.
Minneapolis would go ahead with the new program on Oct. 1, assuming teacher approval. That means that it would enter Q Comp just after the Anoka-Hennepin district. St. Paul schools, the other of the big three districts, is seeking to gain teacher support for joining Q Comp through its teacher contract negotiations.
More than half of the Q Comp money that would come to Minneapolis would go for planning and training time for teachers during their duty day; one key feature of that is time for education aides to plan jointly with the teachers with whom they work. Another hunk — about $2.8 million — would subsidize the teacher evaluation scheme the district began last year. The third large dollop of more than $1.2 million would provide small stipends to hundreds of teachers for taking on academic leadership roles in their schools.
As far as paying teachers for performance — the goal of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration's when it came up with Q Comp — teachers will gain a token $3 per year if they hit all their marks, a sop to the letter of a law that's unpopular with union teachers.
"We are very happy that we are not paying people for their test scores," said Lynn Nordgren, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers. "We're putting that money into professional development and continuous growth."
It took Minneapolis a long time to get this point. The federation long has promoted pay to teachers who demonstrate they've mastered new skills that enhance their teaching. But entering Q Comp was another matter.
The union's teacher members voted in 2006 to join Q Comp, but it took years to develop a proposal with the district. Then in 2009, the district abruptly pulled its proposal back from the state, deciding that it needed more work and was unsustainable. It spent the intervening time fine-tuning its teacher evaluation plans, first with teachers at turnaround schools, then with volunteer and probationary teachers, and last year with the remaining teachers.
Relationships also soured during a 2010 contract dispute in which the district attempted to withhold money that teachers had earned under alternative pay programs, only to be told by an arbitrator that it had to pay.
But district and union leaders support the latest proposal, which the state has approved. It goes forward if 70 percent of teachers ratify it. That's an intriguing threshold because teachers approved Q Comp in 2006 by a 66.2 percent margin. But that was with the then-president of MFT opposing the proposal; Nordgren favors the plan and said about 85 percent of teachers participated in earlier alternative pay plans.
Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438