From the flurry of words earlier this week when Minneapolis teachers filed for the help of a state mediator in their negotiations, you might think that the talks have broken down.

Far from it.  And although the appointment of a mediator will eventually shut the talks to the public, the assigned mediator isn’t expected to be available for more than a week. Talks will be open until the mediator’s arrival.     

The two sides have held some 19 joint sessions to discuss their respective proposals.  There’s even been some tangible progress.  They agreed that Cityview school could open this year as the first of the district’s proposed “partnership schools,” although unrelated events later forestalled that. They also agreed to submit an application to the state to join its Q-comp alternative pay program, subject to a favorable vote by teachers, for which results are expected shortly.

The larger issues of the district’s proposal have been presented, and the district followed that up with detailed contract language. The proposed contract language the district is seeking on filing teaching positions, for example, covers 15 pages.

The teacher bargaining committee meanwhile has forwarded more than 60 pieces of research supporting its priorities. They include such topics as class size, lesson-planning time, scheduling time for peer collaboration, support for students with social and emotional issues, outside services for students and their families, cultural proficiency and useful training.

“Some of them are actually in the contract,” jabbed district lead negotiator Rick Kreyer, who said he’d like to limit discussion to issues within the covers of the contract.

Economic issues typically arise later.  Union President Lynn Nordgren noted that teachers have gone four years without a cost-of-living adjustment, although many earned experience or educational increases.  That helped the district get through a tough fiscal period, but now it’s time for those teachers to get some help on their bills, Nordgren said.

Nordgren said she’d like to see the contract wrapped up by December, which would be several months faster than the last two-year cycle.  But she said she’s not sure that will happen. Negotiations started in June this time around, compared to September in that round.

The union’s request for a mediator, whom Nordgren said would help speed talks, prompted a blast from the normally diplomatic Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson. She accused the union of trying to take the talks secret, given that it’s Bureau of Mediation Services policy to hold all sessions it mediates in private.

Nordgren called that response confrontational, and said that it was disappointing.  “The pace has been slow, and at times, frustrating,” she told teachers. “We want to get unstuck.”         

The superintendent’s reaction also came at an inopportune time because teachers were voting on the proposal to enter Q-comp. Will that affect how teachers vote on a proposal that needs 70 percent approval to proceed?  Kreyer admitted he was a little discomfited by the timing.

(Photo: Minneapolis Federaiton of Teachers President Lynn Nordgren)