Minneapolis teachers raise questions about new contract

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Provisions for a Community Partnership Schools and an expedited termination process raise questions for some teachers preparing to vote on a new Minneapolis Public School contract. After eight months of negotiation, district and teachers union representatives agreed on a new contract, which was presented to Minneapolis teachers on March 10. Teachers have a week to review the contract details before voting begins on March 17.

Minneapolis teacher Jim Thomas said a one-week turnaround is not enough time to adequately review the contract before voting on it. While Thomas acknowledged that this short time frame is not new, he is frustrated that the first union-held information session about the contract will be held on March 17, the same day voting begins.

A Special Education teacher with twenty-five years of experience, Thomas says he has had informal discussions with fellow teachers this week, and that he would like to see more healthy debate among them before they sign off on the contract. For Thomas, there are several aspects of the contract that need to be more clearly explained and discussed before members cast their votes.

Community Partnership Schools

The contract provides for a new “Community Partnership Schools” (CPS) initiative, as part of Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s “Shift” proposal for schools with more “autonomy”  and more “accountability.”  The Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that accompanies the partnership school provision states that these schools will be able to “take advantage of flexibilities” from district policies and procedures, and the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, in order to “achieve results” for their students.

 

More on the contract 

The MPS contract is complicated, and news reports vary somewhat in their descriptions and discussions. Here are two more reports:

Teacher contract could change how schools run (Steve Brandt, Star Tribune)

MPS deal looks like a win-win: Everybody gives, everybody gets (Beth Hawkins, MinnPost)

The contract itself is attached to this article as a PDF (contract plus MOAs from MFT website)

 

Thomas is concerned that the details and guidelines surrounding these partnership schools are too vague, and that teachers are being asked to sign off on something that has not been fully explained or defined. Anishinabe Academy science teacher Shannon Edberg shares Thomas’s concern about the partnership school proposal.

Edberg, who is part of a slate of candidates challenging union president Lynn Nordgren and the union’s Executive Board in this spring’s election, said in an interview that she is concerned about adding a new “partnership school” concept to the previous union and district push for both self-governed and autonomous schools. Edberg questions “how many tiers” the union contract will have. Different tiers mean that teachers’ working conditions will vary depending on which type of school they are working in.

Edberg also questions another aspect of the partnership schools MOA: the proposed flexibility to get rid of district mandates such as Focused Instruction. The district has been implementing Focused Instruction and a push for greater uniformity of instruction for approximately two years now, and Superintendent Johnson has previously called the further district-wide implementation of it “non-negotiable.”

Why, Edberg asked, will only these partnership schools be allowed the flexibility to do away with Focused Instruction? Edberg notes that her students at Anishinabe are being dramatically impacted by poverty, drug abuse, and other complex issues. She says she would also like the flexibility to use the tools she finds most helpful.

Expedited Termination Process

Edberg and Thomas both raised questions about another aspect of the contract: the creation of an “Expedited PSP Process.” A “PSP” is a “professional support plan,” designed to handle situations where teachers are struggling, according to union president Nordgren. PSPs have been used to identify, support, and possibly fire teachers for seventeen years now, and Nordgren says the removal process previously took six to nine months.

The timeline for this expedited process is forty-five days, during which a principal-selected teacher would be given a “triage” evaluation, a plan of action to be met, and a series of progress reports and “support sessions.” If the results of these interventions are not satisfactory, a teacher could then be “referred for outplacement.” The MOA does not clearly explain what conditions, except for the mention of “data-supported evidence,” would qualify a teacher for this process. Should the contract be voted in, this faster track for dismissals or transfers could be used for tenured and non-tenured teachers, in every district school.

The MOA for the expedited process indicates that it is a “deviation from the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the District and the Union.” The MOA then says that this agreement will mean that it will not “form the basis for any precedent for any grievance concerning any alleged violation” of the contract, which seems to indicate teachers will not have the opportunity to challenge their removal.

For Thomas and Edberg, this feels like an “easy path to get rid of teachers,” and Edberg asked why such a policy is needed in the first place. There is a process in place, she noted, that principals are now supposed to be following if they have teachers who need support or are not performing adequately. If there are bad teachers who need removal, Edberg wonders whether principals currently are not doing their jobs.

Teachers will begin voting on the contract on March 17, and will have until March 28 to cast their vote. 

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