Minneapolis teachers have approved a proposal to use the state-backed Q Comp alternative teacher pay plan, meaning two of the state's three largest districts will launch the program this month.

Teachers in Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest district, enter Q Comp this month. The union for St. Paul teachers rejected the pay plan in mid-September contract bargaining.

Q Comp will bring about $9 million to the Minneapolis district, assuming the school board levies its full additional authority to match a large new dollop of state aid. The vote is also a personal triumph for teacher union President Lynn Nordgren, who has been advocating for alternative pay plans since 2003.

Sixty-one percent of voting Minneapolis teacher-union members supported the plan, a level that the district determined is sufficient for the program to go ahead.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson told the school board in mid-August that 70 percent approval from teachers was required. But the district said Tuesday that it was wrong and the threshold is only a majority. The Minnesota Department of Education confirmed Tuesday that the law sets no approval threshold, meaning union bylaws govern.

"I just found out last night about the new requirement," board Chair Alberto Monserrate said. "Apparently they checked with the state last week."

Q Comp, which is short for Quality Teacher Compensation, sends additional state funds to school districts that modify their teacher pay and evaluations.

The Minneapolis vote shows slippage in support for Q Comp from 2006, when 66 percent of voting teachers approved it. However, that proposal was never implemented after the district and union pulled it back in 2009 for more work on how to evaluate teachers.

One factor in the reduced approval margin, according to Nordgren, may be that Johnson last week blasted the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers for seeking state mediation of contract talks, which will close them later this month. Nordgren said the vote may also have been affected by some new teachers voting and by what she called "misinformation" spread by opponents.

The federation said 1,537 teachers voted, which would represent just 51.6 percent of the teacher workforce the district lists on its website. But only union members could vote, as opposed to all teachers represented by the union.

Nordgren said that the state provided the inaccurate 70 percent threshold. District spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said the state clarified recently that union bylaws govern in a unionized district, which puts the threshold at a majority.

More than half the additional money will go toward planning and training time for teachers during their duty day; one key feature is time for education aides to plan jointly with the teachers with whom they work.

Another chunk — about $2.8 million — subsidizes the teacher evaluation scheme the district began last year. The third large chunk of more than $1.2 million provides small stipends to hundreds of teachers for taking on academic leadership roles in their schools.

The plan pays teachers a token amount for performance, but that's limited to a maximum of $3 per teacher per year, a concession to teacher union opposition to paying for performance. Performance-based pay was a key goal of former Gov. Tim Pawlenty in proposing Q Comp.

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