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St. Paul teachers reject move to develop Q Comp proposal

  • Article by: Anthony Lonetree
  • Star Tribune
  • September 17, 2013 - 9:40 PM

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers has turned down the school district’s request to help develop a proposal to join the state’s Q Comp alternative teacher pay program.

The district had hoped to persuade the union to work on the joint plan after the Minneapolis school district and its teachers worked out an agreement downplaying Q Comp’s most controversial aspect: pay for performance.

St. Paul officials noted, too, that like Minneapolis, the district stood to gain as much as $9 million, most of it in state aid, if a joint proposal were to be approved by the state. St. Paul’s most recent teacher contract had cost about $13.9 million.

But union negotiators said the request, which coincided with a new round of negotiations that began in May, would divert time and energy from contract goals it is pursuing such as preschool expansion and class-size reduction.

Those goals, laid out in a booklet, “The Schools St. Paul Children Deserve,” were the work of study groups that included educators, parents and community members, “and this is what our parents are looking for,” said Joan Duncanson, a special-education teacher who is a member of the union’s bargaining team.

Schools Superintendent Valeria Silva said in a statement Tuesday night: “Given that the state is quickly reaching the funding cap for Q Comp, we have likely lost the opportunity to access $9 million a year in ongoing funding to serve our teachers and students. It is disheartening to lose the funding for future years.”

Last week, the Minneapolis school board unanimously approved a proposal jointly developed with its teachers union, a plan that if ratified by teachers, will go into effect Oct. 1. The Anoka-Hennepin district, the state’s largest, also has entered Q Comp, leaving St. Paul as the only one of the state’s three biggest districts not to have a proposal in the works.

More than half of the $9 million in Q Comp money expected to go to Minneapolis would be used for planning and training time for teachers. As for performance pay — the original aim of the program as created under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty — the agreement calls for teachers to gain a mere $3 per year.

Matt Mohs, chief academic officer in St. Paul, has said that the district’s vision for Q Comp was about professional development, teacher evaluation and career advancement, and that performance pay was not a priority.

“It is a different time since Q Comp was developed,” he said.

The district had hoped to present a joint proposal to the state Department of Education by Nov. 15.

In a letter to members explaining its decision, the union’s bargaining team wrote that a study by the Office of the Legislative Auditor found no evidence that the performance incentive components of Q Comp had raised student achievement.

“This track record makes Q Comp’s future uncertain,” the letter states. “SPFT is uncomfortable with making a portion of the district’s annual budget dependent on a source of funds that could disappear in the near future.”

In recent correspondence with Mohs, union president Mary Cathryn Ricker asked about the potential mingling of Q Comp money with funds that now go to a district program, Peer Assistance and Review (PAR), whereby specially trained teachers mentor others across the district. Negotiators feared what would happen to PAR if Q Comp dollars dried up.

Mohs replied that, barring unforeseen changes in district finances, the district would continue to fund PAR through the general fund.

Asked about the decision to leave a possible $9 million in funding behind, Kimberly Colbert, a union bargaining team member, suggested that the district could tap its fund balance, which the union says totals about $47.6 million, and grew by about $17 million in the past year.

Anthony Lonetree • 651-925-5036

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