Schools notebook // School Board and teachers union adopt new contract

The School Board approved a new, two-year contract with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers that extends the school year by four days and gives teachers an extra $3,090.

The April 17 vote split the School Board 6–2, with board members Alberto Monserrate, Jenny Arneson, Richard Mammen, Jill Davis, Kim Ellison and Rebecca Gagnon voting in support of the agreement. Carla Bates and Hussein Samatar voted against the contract, and during the meeting both said the contract did not go far enough or move fast enough to address the district’s racial and economic achievement gap.

“We are moving at a snail’s pace when we need to be roadrunners,” Bates said.

All but one of the 14 people who spoke during an unusually long public comment period were critical of the contract. Most of the speakers, including former School Board members Chris Stewart and T. Williams, urged the board not to approve the contract.

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s opening comments seemed to anticipate the opposition. Johnson described the contract as just one piece in the puzzle of improving student outcomes, mentioning the district’s ongoing efforts to construct a “supportive and meaningful” teacher evaluation system and the expanded use of summer school to help struggling students catch up with their peers.

“This contract is not an end in itself, it is a foundation to help build future success,” she said.

About 83 percent of licensed teachers who voted supported the contract, the union reported. The district estimated the contract would increase its spending on teacher pay by about 6.4 percent, or over $17 million.

AchieveMpls awarded major grant

Tom Grossman, the owner of Twin Cities-area auto dealerships, donated $500,000 to AchieveMpls in April through the Minnesota Community Foundation.

AchieveMpls CEO Pam Costain called the gift a “once in a lifetime” opportunity for the nonprofit organization that serves as Minneapolis Public Schools’ fundraising partner.

“It’s incredible,” Costain said. “In the nonprofit world we do fine getting the money we need to balance our budget every year, but what this grant does is it provides us an opportunity to make a whole leap in our growth and development.”

The grant was the first to come from the foundation’s new Transformational Fund, which aims to support organizations serving Hennepin County with one-time, major grants to spark “organization-wide, long-term, sustainable change,” according to the foundation’s website. The grants are targeted to organizations that promote self-sufficiency among the economically disadvantaged.

And that’s a good way of describing the mission of STEP-UP Achieve, the summer youth employment program managed by AchieveMpls. Part of the $500,000 grant, distributed to AchieveMpls over two years, will be used to expand that program “in pretty significant ways,” Costain said.

STEP-UP places hundreds of Minneapolis youth in local paid internships every summer, but the aim is to expand the program into a national model of a “career-laddering program helping kids access high-wage jobs,” Costain said.

She said the grant would also help AchieveMpls develop its own infrastructure — funding board development, strategic planning and a push to expand the donor base — and to set up a data-driven system to evaluate the effectiveness of its programs. In addition to STEP-UP, those include the college and career centers in Minneapolis high schools.

Grossman, who lives in Wayzata, also serves on the Minnesota Community Foundation board. He owns five suburban auto dealerships.

High schools getting Go-To Cards

About 2,500 high school students will have the option to ride Metro Transit buses and trains to and from class next year under a Minneapolis Public Schools plan to expand use of the Go-To Student Pass.

About 900 students at seven Minneapolis high schools already use the transit passes to commute to school, and the pilot program has been successful enough that the district and Metro Transit plan to expand their partnership for the 2012–2013 school year. That’s when students at Washburn, Edison, Henry, North, Roosevelt and Wellstone high schools enter the program; students at Southwest and South will have to wait until 2013–2014.

The student passes will be valid for transit rides from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. seven days a week, so that students can also use their Go-To Student Passes to commute to after-school jobs or extracurricular activities. Metro Transit may adjust some routes and bus schedule to accommodate trips to and from high schools.