With agreement last week on a new St. Paul teacher contract and progress Thursday in the Anoka-Hennepin talks, there are signs that the noticeably quieter Minneapolis teacher talks could wrap up in the next few days.
Negotiators met Thursday and Friday and were scheduled to meet again Saturday. If they reach a tentative agreement soon, that would be the earliest pact in at least three rounds of bargaining covering six contract years.
“Making great progress -- looks like we are getting very close,” Lynn Nordgren (right), president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, wrote in a text message on Friday. She said both sides came to negotiations willing to listen and openly discuss issues. “We believe we came to some good solid agreements as a result.”
School Board Chairman Richard Mammen agreed. “Teachers and administration are meeting as we speak and seem very intent on coming to a conclusion very soon. The reports I’ve had is that we’re making good progress. I’m optimistic that we’ll have something in hand to consider soon.”
Unlike St. Paul, where union leaders scheduled a strike authorization vote, and Anoka-Hennepin, where teachers have been working to the letter of their contract, the Minneapolis union has eschewed such public tactics in favor of working with the assistance of a state mediator. Talks have been closed since October after the union sought mediation. The most heated moment came when normally diplomatic Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson blasted the mediation request.
The tenor this time has been a particularly sharp contrast to the 2009-2011 round when it took 18 months, an arbitration and teachers flexing their muscles by parading through a board meeting to express their displeasure over no contract. That two-year contract was approved less than six months before it expired. Negotiations for the 2011-2013 contract didn't reach a tentative agreement until late March, meaning any agreement covering 2013-2015 reached now would beat that by several weeks.
The Minneapolis contract probably has gotten more scrutiny than any other teacher contract in the state from those who style themselves school reform advocates, who showed up at many of the pre-mediation bargaining sessions. A college group calling itself Students For Education Reform protested the closing of mediated bargaining but so far has not gotten legislation introduced to change the mediation commissioner's discretion to close sessions.
Talks started in June, shortly after Johnson (left) sketched priorities in a May speech to civic leaders. She asked for more flexibility from teachers in their contract, including agreement to go ahead with what she calls partnership schools, which would get more autonomy but be accountable for achieving performance standards. She also laid out such negotiating priorities as more teaching time, hiring flexibility, fiscal restraint and opportunities for teachers to assume more leadership.
A union response called for smaller classes, more student services, less testing, more hiring more time to plan classes, and more culturally relevant lessons. Early talks produced agreement to open Cityview school building as one of Johnson's partnership schools, but that later fizzled for other reasons. Teachers also agreed to apply to the state for $9 million under an alternative teacher compensation program, and that money was awarded.