Schools notebook // Contract deadline missed

MPS misses deadline for teacher contract

Minneapolis Public Schools will pay a fine of about $800,000 for missing the Jan. 15 state-imposed deadline to settle contract negotiations with its teachers.

That was a Friday. Superintendent Bill Green said the following Monday negotiations had paused over the weekend, but were expected
to resume soon.

“The key thing right now is salary increase,” Green said. “We are negotiating for a (pay) freeze, and the union wants to have an increase of salary.”

Green said the terms preferred by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers would cost the district $14­–15 million. The union estimated the cost at closer to $6 million.

Minneapolis was one of 28 districts out of more than 340 across the state to miss the deadline, Education Minnesota reported. The statewide teachers union estimated more than half of the state’s teachers agreed to salary freezes in one or both years of their new two-year contracts.

In a letter released just before the negotiation deadline, Green and School Board Chair Tom Madden wrote the state’s budget woes had put the district in “an extremely difficult situation.”

The district projects a $12.5-million budget shortfall in the 2010–2011 schools year, ballooning to $20 million the following year. With the state projecting a $1.2 billion budget shortfall in 2010–2011, and already planning delayed aid payments to school districts, “it just makes it very untenable to plan on any kind of state allocation,” Green said.

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Lynn Nordgren said the district’s insistence on a salary freeze came after five or six years of sacrifice on the part of teachers.

“If we’re going to honor students, we need to honor the teachers who come to work with those students every day,” Nordgren said.

She said a disagreement over what teachers who participated in an alternative pay program were owed likely would be resolved in arbitration. The letter from Madden and Green stated that state payments did not keep up with the cost of the program, and that district administrators were seeking a “more affordable and sustainable structure” for the pay-for-performance plan.

Nordgren countered: “If they knew last year they didn’t have the money for this, they should have not signed the agreement.”

Green said accepting the unions’ terms would force the district to lay-off between 100 and 140 teachers and raise class sizes. It would also wipe out the cost savings achieved through Changing School Options, a district restructuring plan that closed schools and cut busing costs, he warned.

The district’s proposal, he added, would prevent teacher layoffs or at least keep them to a minimum.

In place of salary increases, the district was offering to hold down class sizes, streamline the hiring process and make other changes to improve teachers’ “quality of life,” Green said.

“I don’t see us moving from the salary piece, but I’m confident we can find some kind of solution,” he added.

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School Board elects officers

School Board members re-elected Tom Madden as chairman at the board’s Jan. 12 annual meeting.

This will be Madden’s second one-year term as chair.

Board members Chris Stewart and Carla Bates were re-elected clerk and treasurer, respectively.

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Some Minneapolis schools get longer day

Some Minneapolis Public Schools students will spend an extra 15 minutes in school next year, Executive Director of Family Engagement Jackie Turner said in January.

The school day at the district’s K–5 and K–8 schools will run to 6 hours and 30 minutes in 2010–2011. The district’s 6–8 middle schools already had the longer day, and the change was made to bring the two school types in line, Emily Lowther of the district’s communications office explained.

Lowther said half-day kindergarten programs also would be lengthened to three hours, an increase of 15 minutes.

Turner also announced start-time changes for five district schools, but only one in Southwest: Burroughs Community School. Burroughs school day was pushed back half an hour, and will run 9:10 a.m.–3:40 p.m. in 2010–2011.

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MPS plans hiring freeze

Anticipating a state budget deficit will lead to reduced state funding for schools in 2010–2011, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bill Green announced a district hiring freeze Jan. 12.

At that night’s School Board meeting, Green said district staff were “assessing daily what we project the state and governor will do, in this upcoming legislative session, on school funding.”

“Since we know that we will most likely face anywhere from mild to dramatic reductions in state foundation aid, we are currently planning to hold the line on any new hiring for the remainder of the school year,” he said.

Green said “critical positions” within the district still would be “evaluated and filled as needed.”

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Johnson is only candidate for superintendent

The Minneapolis School Board named Deputy Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson their only candidate to replace Superintendent Bill Green, who previously announced plans to retire June 30.

The announcement was made at the Jan. 19 School Board meeting, just before this edition of the Southwest Journal went to press. An upcoming edition will include more information on Johnson’s nomination.