ADVERTISEMENT

Pre-school teaching assistant Kia Vang, left, watched as Poe Tha Puh wrote her name on a board before class started at Eastern Heights Elementary School, Tuesday, July 9, 2013 in St. Paul, MN.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

A confusing choice


“I’m perplexed that the [teachers] union would turn down this opportunity to engage its teachers in crafting an agreement that would accomplish many of the union’s goals, including gaining additional professional development funds for teachers. … I’m disappointed that the St. Paul Federation of Teachers has decided not … to take advantage of new funds and a new opportunity to shape programs that support their interests.”


-CHRIS COLEMAN, St. Paul mayor

Minnesota educators shouldn't reject state funds

  • Article by: Editorial Board
  • Star Tribune
  • September 22, 2013 - 11:09 PM

Last week, one of Minnesota’s largest teachers unions opted not to apply for $9 million in state Q Comp funds. In the midst of negotiations for a new contract, the St. Paul Federation of Teachers killed the Q Comp request (teachers union approval is required for a district to apply).

That was a bad decision. Especially since the money can be used in flexible ways, there is little reason for teachers to reject it.

Started under Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration, Q Comp is short for Quality Teacher Compensation. The program was designed to send additional state funds to school districts that modified their teacher pay and evaluations and moved toward ‘‘pay for performance’’ models based on student outcomes.

About 100 of Minnesota’s 300-plus school districts signed on and receive the funds — including Anoka-Hennepin, the state’s largest district. The Minneapolis school board recently voted to join the program, and its teachers union is expected to soon ratify the plan. In most of those districts, the money has been used for planning and training and teacher evaluations — a far cry away from the merit-pay systems that many unions oppose.

In a letter to members, St. Paul teachers union leaders called applying for the state program “a distraction’’ from more important steps needed to help students. They argue that Q Comp has not improved student achievement and that there is no guarantee the district would receive the state money.

Their chief negotiator said that after lengthy discussion and debate, union team members ultimately object to the strings attached to the program. They believe the district should use funds it has coming through other sources to support staffing and other union proposals presented in contract talks.

But St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman rightly took issue with that position in a response to the union. He highlighted the partnership that the city, district and union have developed over the years and the “get it done together’’ attitude they’ve shared toward serving students.

Coleman believes that the union should not reject adding $9 million to district coffers, because the state will likely approve St. Paul’s request before Q Comp funding runs out.

He’s right. As the mayor points out, the state Department of Education and district leaders have been very flexible about how Q Comp funds can be used. Coleman expressed disappointment in the union decision and said that the bargaining group “cannot — and should not — leave $9 million on the table, particularly after voters have repeatedly opened their pocketbooks and have passed referendum after referendum.”

Q Comp, though, is not the only area where the union and school administration have differences. After only three contract meetings since May, district negotiators walked out of the fourth session last week and said the talks will continue with a state mediator. District leaders said the discussions had become untenable and unproductive.

Administrators call most of the union’s 29 proposals “unreasonable’’ because many dictate decisions that properly fall within management’s purview and do not belong in the contract. As an example, they said, teachers want the contract to spell out the number of social workers or counselors the district must hire, which would undermine its ability to manage its budget.

School negotiators also said that union proposals would cost $130 million over two years and that, if implemented, they could “bankrupt’’ the system. The current agreement expired June 30; the union and management are discussing their next two-year contract.

It’s unfortunate that a mediator has been called in so early in contract talks. State involvement means that the coming sessions will likely be closed-door meetings, denying the public an opportunity to observe.

But even as mediation proceeds, the union should reconsider its stand on Q Comp. It should help secure needed dollars to benefit St. Paul students.

© 2014 Star Tribune