St. Paul schools and its teachers have started contract talks with the district pushing an alternative pay proposal while teachers want to bolster the traditional pay structure — and make preschool available to every 4-year-old and standardized tests a requirement for no one.

The St. Paul Federation of Teachers, which represents 3,300 teachers, is proposing a continuation of the “steps and lanes” that base teacher pay on seniority and level of education. It also is seeking wage-and-benefit increases that could total $23.7 million over two years, the district said.

The district, however, is pursuing union buy-in on Q Comp, the alternative pay program run by the state. Q Comp, when enacted in 2005, was touted as a reform measure tying teacher compensation more directly to student performance. But Matt Mohs, the district’s interim chief academic officer, said Thursday that St. Paul’s vision for Q Comp is more about its professional development, teacher evaluation and career advancement components than it is about performance pay.

He said the district also could see an additional $9 million to $10 million in state and local funding, as a result, “and that’s not a small carrot.”

The teachers have heard the Q Comp pitches before, and on Monday they met again with Superintendent Valeria Silva for a Q-and-A session on the subject. Early indications are that the union still needs persuading.

“The program is based on the false assumption that performance incentives will make us work harder than we already do to help our students,” Denise Rodriguez, the federation’s vice president, said this week. “And that is why we have never agreed to Q Comp in the past.”

The average pay for St. Paul’s 3,300 teachers is about $68,000, Mohs said. Neither the union nor the district could specify what the union’s pay proposal could mean for the average teacher, but the federation has proposed raising each cell in the salary schedule by $1,500 in the contract’s first year and $1,000 in the second. The union also wants 1,010 veteran teachers to get additional 1 percent raises each year.

The district and the union met twice in May, and have yet to set any new negotiation sessions. The current contract expires Sunday, but conditions remain in place until a new deal is reached. The last round of talks took eight months and produced a contract that cost the district about $13.9 million.

That agreement was retroactive to June 30, 2011, and in its first year, St. Paul’s white students continued to score high on the statewide reading and math tests; performance among minority students held steady in reading, while in math some groups declined and others increased slightly, according to 2012 results released last August. Overall scores remained at the same levels as in 2011, with 57.2 percent proficient in reading and 41.3 percent proficient in math.

For this year’s contract talks, the union convened two study groups of parents, educators and community members to help it develop its contract proposals, and published the findings in a booklet titled “The Schools St. Paul Children Deserve.” Asked about union priorities, Rodriguez pointed to a page promoting access to preschool, family engagement, smaller class sizes and “teaching, not testing.”

The union is asking the district to opt out of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCAs) because it says the tests only assess select standards in math, reading and science and do not offer the quick feedback or opportunities to track student growth that come with tests designed and administered by teachers. Rodriguez would not comment on how the district could go about dropping the MCAs. The district says the proposal is outside the bargaining process.

The push to open preschool to all is related to the Legislature’s decision this year to fund all-day kindergarten beginning in 2014-15. Since St. Paul taxpayers help fund the all-day program with a special levy, the union argues, the money could be freed up for preschool purposes. Mohs counters that the district is committed to expanding preschool options but that the levy dollars would be insufficient for a universal program. The union proposal also fails to take into account what happens to those students, and to their respective schools, as they move into kindergarten and other grades, he said.

Ar present, the district is awaiting word from the federation on its potential interest in Q Comp, and hopes to get “some signal within a couple of weeks,” Mohs said.

Rodriguez, choosing her words carefully, said: “We will address it through the negotiations process. We intend to give them a response.”