After 10 months of contentious talks, members of the Minneapolis teachers union have voted overwhelmingly to ratify a two-year contract with Minneapolis Public Schools, the union and district announced Friday.
The new contract contains a 0.5 percent pay hike, retroactive to July 1, 2017. That raise does not include individual increases for teachers' years of service and education levels, a system known as "steps and lanes." The pay increase estimate including steps and lanes is about 2 percent, but it varies by individual teacher, according to the district.
Leaders of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the union that represents the district's 3,521 teachers, said that 77 percent of those who voted backed the agreement, while 23 percent opposed it.
Union President Michelle Wiese said the contract is financially devastating for teachers, who she said face steeply rising medical costs.
"I would also like to publicly acknowledge that this agreement adds substantive improvements to our contract language, while not having any of the takebacks found in many of our previous contracts," Wiese wrote in an e-mail to union members Friday. "But, sadly, it does not come close to addressing the changes that we must win to secure the schools all our students deserve."
The contract marks a win for the state's third-largest school system, which is grappling with a $33 million shortfall for the 2018-19 school year. The budget strife made contract talks difficult for union leaders, who had pushed for a 5 percent pay increase.
"We are pleased that the contract agreement is able to honor our teachers within the amount budgeted by MPS and its Board of Education," Superintendent Ed Graff said in a statement Friday. "We look forward to finishing the year strong for our students."
The school board is expected to vote to approve the contract at its April 10 meeting.
As part of an effort to balance next year's budget, the district said it would cut 350 to 400 full-time positions. The estimated cost of the two-year pay increases is $2.4 million, the district said.
The contract agreement comes shortly after St. Paul teachers averted a strike vote in February. Union leaders there fought for 2.5 percent pay hikes, but ultimately walked away with 1 percent. Meanwhile, 63 percent of Education Minnesota's teacher contracts have been settled, with average salary increases of 1.95 percent in the first year and 2.1 percent in the second year, said Chris Williams, a spokesman for the statewide teachers union.
Last year, in the early months of talks on the new Minneapolis contract, district negotiators and the union asked a state mediator to step in. In February, hundreds of teachers rallied outside district headquarters and then marched through a school board meeting, demanding that the district renew their contract, which had expired in June 2017. The two sides reached a tentative agreement on March 12.
"I know people aren't very happy" about the new contract, said union steward and elementary math teacher Billy Menz, whose position at Lyndale Community School has been cut. Under his tenure, he is eligible for another job within the district. "A 0.5 percent raise is really not a raise," he said. "It doesn't really reflect cost-of-living increases and the professionalism that teachers deserve."
Among other aspects of the new contract: The union can use the district's e-mail and mailboxes for work reasons, and the district will send weekly employee updates to the union. It also allows teachers to inform parents at the start of the school year of their rights to opt students out of standardized tests and protects teachers who receive training from the district's Grow Your Own program from layoffs.
Both sides plan to return to the bargaining table in January to work on a deal for a new contract, starting July 2019.