St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman has asked the St. Paul Federation of Teachers to reconsider its refusal to work with the school district on a Q Comp alternative teacher pay plan.
Of major concern to the mayor is the union's willingness to leave $9 million in potential funding "on the table, particularly after voters have repeatedly opened their pocketbooks" in recent school-levy votes, Coleman wrote in a letter Wednesday to union president Mary Cathryn Ricker.
On Tuesday, union negotiators informed district leaders that they were turning down a request to collaborate on a Q Comp plan, and while leaders did not explain their reasoning to the district, they told union members and reporters that a key concern was that it would draw time and energy away from contract goals laid out in a union booklet, "The Schools St. Paul Children Deserve."
The district, in seeking to gain union participation, has noted that a recent Q Comp plan negotiated in Minneapolis downplays the program's original emphasis on performance pay and could generate $9 million in funding -- money that would be used for teacher professional development and other purposes.
In a letter to members, the union's bargaining team has pointed to the district's $47.6 million fund balance as a possible resource to "meet the critical needs of St. Paul students."
To that, the mayor wrote that the union "appears to be saying that it is turning down $9 million because our schools have more than enough financial resources to carry out its important work of closing the achievement gap. In Saint Paul, 85 percent of white 3rd graders are proficient in reading but only 51 percent of African-American 3rd graders and 48 percent of Native American 3rd graders are. It is obvious that we still have work to do together."
He added that citizens would expect the union to take a "common-sense approach" and would view approval of a Q Comp plan as a "significant gain for our schools, our district and our community."
Nick Faber, the union's secretary, wrote in an e-mail Wednesday night: "I hope everyone respects the amount of time and thoughtful work our team put into this decision ... we've received nothing but supportive comments from our contract action team last night and other members during the day today."
In the earlier letter to members, union negotiators wrote that the $9 million that could be raised through Q Comp would be a combination of state and local funding, and that the local money -- more than $3 million, according to the union -- would come from taxes that would be levied by the district without voter approval.
"SPFT has strongly supported previous voter-approved levies because we felt that dollars would be used in ways that would directly benefit students," union negotiators wrote. "Q Comp funds, if available, would be restricted in how they could be used."
The two sides are expected to resume negotiations Thursday on a new teachers contract.