Schools Notebook // Teachers contract votes expected this month

Minneapolis teachers would receive some “steps and lanes” payments but no cost-of-living adjustment to their salaries under a tentative 2009–2011 contract agreement reached with the district Dec. 27.

The contract awaits approval by teachers and the School Board, but both groups were expected to take action later this month. Negotiations on the contract began in August 2009 and stretched to almost 18 months, a delay that cost the district $800,000 for missing a state-imposed deadline one year ago.

An executive summary of the agreement posted Jan. 3 on the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers website ( indicated teachers would receive payments for “steps and lanes” — time on the job and college coursework, respectively — accumulated during the contract period, but no other salary increases. Teachers’ ballots will be tallied Jan. 21, according to a schedule posted on the website.

Union President Lynn Nordgren declined to discuss the contract in further detail before this edition of the Southwest Journal went to press. Minor changes to the contract language were still being discussed Jan. 4, Nordgren said. 

“We’re not going to really say anything (specific) until we absolutely have every little ‘I’ dotted and ‘T’ crossed,” she said.

In the weeks before a tentative agreement was reached, district teachers began to receive a portion of the $17 million in back pay state arbitrators ruled was unfairly withheld by the district while contract talks were ongoing. School Board Chair Tom Madden said that decision helped usher contract talks to a close.

“I think everybody wanted resolution,” Madden said. “Really, we were only down to a couple of items for the last few months, anyhow.”

The arbitrators’ ruling, though, also widened the district’s budget shortfall heading into next school year. District Chief Financial Officer Peggy Ingison’s latest projection put that shortfall at $30–45 million.

The district’s budget woes undoubtedly will cast a shadow on the next round of contract negotiations. In May, the district and union are expected to take the first steps in negotiating a two-year agreement covering 2011–2013.

Nordgren said the union planned to revisit “anything we had left over” from the current round of negotiations in the spring.

Former associate superintendent picked for ed post

Gov. Mark Dayton announced 20-year schools veteran Brenda Cassellius as his pick to lead the Department of Education Dec. 31.

Cassellius served as an associate superintendent in Minneapolis Public Schools from 2007–2010. In the spring of 2010 she was named superintendent of the East Metro Integration District, a collaboration between St. Paul Public Schools and nine suburban districts in the eastern metro to promote achievement.

As an associate superintendent in Minneapolis, Cassellius oversaw high school reform efforts that aimed to expand access to rigorous coursework by implementing the “Core Four” programs — International Baccalaureate, College in the Schools, Advanced Placement and Career and Technical Education — in all seven of the city’s traditional high schools. Also during her tenure as associate superintendent, Washburn and Edison high schools each underwent a “fresh start” meant to turn around underperforming schools.

Cassellius began her career as a social studies teacher and was an assistant principal in both the St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts. From 2004–2007 Cassellius served as middle school academic superintendent in Memphis City Schools, where she worked under the leadership of former Minneapolis superintendent Carol Johnson.

Writing on her superintendent’s blog on the East Metro Integration District website, Cassellius called her nomination “an unexpected honor” and said she was “humbled.”

Tom Dooher, president of the Education Minnesota teachers’ union, congratulated Cassellius in a written statement released Dec. 31.

“I look forward to working with (Cassellius) and Governor-elect Dayton on the important challenges that lie ahead,” Dooher wrote. “We’re eager to begin a partnership that helps make Minnesota’s strong public schools even better.”

Dayton calls for businesses, citizens to support schools

Gov. Mark Dayton spent part of the morning before his Jan. 3 inauguration volunteering at a St. Paul public school, and then called on Minnesota citizens to do the same in his inaugural address.

“I ask every adult Minnesotan, who is physically able, to volunteer a part of one day, every month, at a school, hospital, or social service agency, as I did this morning at the Wellstone Elementary School and will continue to do as Governor and thereafter,” Dayton said, according to the full text of the speech as prepared for delivery.

Earlier in the address, the state’s first DFL governor in 20 years also called on Minnesota businesses to “adopt” a school and “contribute to its improvement.” He urged business leaders to meet with school staff and discuss needs, like “a little money, a lot of help, technical expertise, remedial reading volunteers, adult mentors, new books, used computers.”

“Make that school’s progress your shared responsibility,” he said.

Reach Dylan Thomas at [email protected]