A coalition of Minneapolis City Council members, former school board members, retired administrators, parents and pastors are calling for major reform in the school district's contract with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, including an end to seniority-based teacher placement.
The individuals have signed the "Contract for Student Achievement," a three-page document that Lynnell Mickelson, co-founder of Put Kids First Minneapolis, presented to school board members Tuesday night.
"In the past, teacher contract negotiations have been treated as exclusive talks between private parties," the document reads. "Unfortunately, the result has been a legacy of contracts that repeatedly put the needs of adults over the academic needs of students."
"Today, our schools work very well for some of our students while completely failing others. Minneapolis has the largest achievement gap in Minnesota," the group's "contract" says. "So we call on the district and the MFT to negotiate a different kind of contract -- one that recognizes the academic crisis in our schools and makes student achievement the top focus."
Lynn Nordgren, president of the teacher union, disputed some findings in the group's letter.
"The group is well-intentioned, but their strategies are misguided," Nordgren said. "The teachers are the experts. For some reason, everybody else thinks they are the experts now."
Former school board chair Catherine Shreves is among the more than 30 people who signed the "Contract for Student Achievement." During her time on the school board, poor-performing teachers were often removed from schools that had active parent involvement and dumped in schools that didn't, she said.
Shreves likened the staff turnover to "The Dance of the Lemons," a term used in the film "Waiting for Superman" to describe how less-than-stellar teachers are shuffled from building to building because no principal wants to keep them on staff.
"You can't look at the statistics and say what we're doing is working," Shreves said. "It's a very unfair system, a system that needs reform."
Shreves doubts that much reform will happen under the current school board.
Back in December, before they took office, Jenny Arneson, Rebecca Gagnon, Richard Mammen and Alberto Monserrate signed a letter on Minneapolis Federation of Teachers letterhead, scolding the last board for its handling of contract negotiations with the teachers union.
At the time, then-school board chair Tom Madden accused the union of co-opting the four; Nordgren denied seeking to influence the newcomers. Arneson, Gagnon, Mammen and Monserrate later apologized for the decision, saying they erred in judgment.
"The previous school board worked very hard for contract reform," Shreves said.
Chris Stewart, who was a school board member at that time, signed the letter along with Jim Bartholomew, director of Education Policy for the Minnesota Business Partnership; City Council members Don Samuels and Meg Tuthill; former school board members Sharon Henry-Blythe, Dennis Shapiro and T. Williams; Jeffrey Hassan of the African American Leadership Forum; former City Council president John Cairn; Bill English of the Coalition of Black Churches and others.
Negotiations on the teacher contract for the 2011-2013 school years began this fall. The previous contract expired in July. The next bargaining session is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 9, at Minneapolis Federation of Teachers headquarters, 67 8th Av. NE.
Here's a copy of the "Contract for Student Achievement":