Schools Notebook: Negotiators reach agreement on teacher contract

Plus: SFER delivers its BoardWatch report; the board's student representative ends his term; and, in the middle of a tumultuous meeting, the board elects officers

Negotiators representing Minneapolis Public Schools its teachers union reached agreement on a new contract Dec. 17.

The district did not immediately release details of the agreement with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, which still must be approved by teachers and the Board of Education. Negotiations over the 2015–2017 contract began in June.

A joint statement released in December by MFT President Lynn Nordgren and interim district Superintendent Michael Goar read: “This contract is about doing positive things for the students of Minneapolis Public Schools. It’s about engaging with teachers around classroom safety and dealing constructively with behavior issues. And, it’s about supporting and rewarding great teaching and related services. This contract does all of these things.”

The public won’t learn more about the new contract until after the Board of Education and union leaders meet to discuss it in an executive session scheduled to take place in January. The meeting will be closed to the public.


BoardWatch report card is in

Students for Education Reform finished its BoardWatch pilot project and released its report card on the Board of Education’s performance in late December.

The SFER members who observed meetings throughout the superintendent search process judged the board to be doing a “fair” job. The report states that “disorganization” led to overlong meetings, too much time was spent discussing process instead of substantive issues and members occasionally looked bored and distracted or argued in ways that appeared “unprofessional” to the student observers.

“We were like, yeah, we want you to disagree, but you shouldn’t disagree with so much vitriol,” Kenneth Eban, SFER’s Minnesota program director, said.

The board got its highest marks from SFER for treating the superintendent candidates fairly; demonstrating a belief in all students’ potential; its focus on academic achievement; its concern for “marginalized populations”; and making the community feel welcome in the boardroom. Board of Education Chair Jenny Arneson did not respond to a request for comment on the SFER report.

SFER is a national education reform organization also active in California and North Carolina.


Term ends for first student representative

The Board of Education wasn’t able to follow through on a plan to honor its first student representative during a tumultuous Jan. 12 meeting.

But Patrick Henry High School junior Noah Branch left a mark during his year of service on the board, for which he earned a $5,000 college scholarship. Branch didn’t get a vote on the board but he was invited to join in the debate, and he developed a reputation for incisive commentary.

“He speaks his mind, and we can’t control it. We’ve tried,” his mother, Rebecca Branch, joked.

Both of Branch’s parents expressed their pride for their son during the meeting’s public comment period, but a plan to formally honor the student representative was abandoned after a protest disrupted the meeting. When that item came up on the agenda, it was already near 10 p.m. on a school night, and Branch had left the building.

The board is expected to name a new student representative soon.


Board elects officers

Jenny Arneson will serve another year as chair of the Minneapolis Board of Education.

Arneson was re-elected to that position during the board’s Jan. 12 annual meeting. All of the board’s other officers also retained their positions, including Vice Chair Kim Ellison, Treasurer Rebecca Gagnon and Clerk Josh Reimnitz.

Choosing officers was unusually awkward exercise at an already tense board meeting, one of several in recent months to be disrupted by protest. Board Member Siad Ali nominated his colleague, Rebecca Gagnon, for chair, although she clearly was not expecting it, saying she preferred to serve as treasurer for the upcoming year, when the district will pursue a referendum.

Ali later nominated for vice chair Board Member Don Samuels, who turned him down. Board Member Carla Bates, who had in the past sought the treasurer position, also turned down a nomination from Ali for that position.

After her re-election to chair, Arneson spoke only briefly, saying she was “tired.” She described the board as “divided.”

“This year has been an extremely difficult year and this night has been an extremely difficult night,” she said.