Hundreds rally outside MPS headquarters amid contract negotiations

Hundreds of Minneapolis Public Schools teachers rallied outside of the district headquarters on Tuesday.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers rallied outside Minneapolis Public Schools headquarters Feb. 13, as contract negotiations continued in private between union and district leaders.

Hundreds of union members picketed, many holding signs describing the changes they’d like to see in their schools, such as smaller class sizes and school psychologists and nurses. Speakers at the rally said the union plans to wait for as long as necessary to get the services that students deserve.

“Tonight we stand up for our students,” MFT president Michelle Wiese said. “Tonight we stand up and say, ‘We are here to fight for the schools our students deserve.'”

The rally came just days before the union and district were scheduled to hold a mediation session. The union and the district did not come to a contract agreement during public talks this fall, leading Superintendent Ed Graff to request mediation.

The union has asked for limits on class sizes, 5 percent salary increases, more paid holidays and full-time nurses, social workers, psychologists and teaching specialists as part of negotiations. The district rejected the union’s class-size proposal and says cost of 10 of the union’s proposals alone would be more than $126 million. That would further exacerbate a projected $33 million deficit for 2018–2019, it says.

South High School teacher Mary Manor, a member of the union’s negotiating team, countered that the union’s proposals are necessary for the success of students. They asked when would be the right time to fully fund schools if not now and said the district needs to find better ways to use its money.

“Students can’t wait for fully funded schools,” they said. They characterized the rally as positive and a chance for the community to show solidarity.

Manor also said they think there’s “double-digit millions” to be saved when it comes to student testing and teacher evaluation.

At the School Board meeting following the rally, Graff expressed a desire to reduce the number of evaluations and said that the district and the union have many points of agreement.

“For the record, I think we both want schools that serve all of our students very well,” he said, adding that he appreciates the teachers and other staff who showed up at the Davis Center.

As part of negotiations, the district has proposed changing how MPS pays for teachers’ health and dental insurance and reducing the number of teacher-prep days before the school year. It’s also proposed allowing the district flexibility in the length of the school year and the number of teacher-duty days.

The proposal would allow the district to reduce the number of duty days by up to 11 and reduce teachers’ pay by 0.5 percent for each day cut.

The union has rejected the proposal.

The teachers union’s previous contract expired June 30, but Minnesota has a statute that requires contracts to remain in place even if they’ve expired.

Board support for referendums

At the Feb. 13 meeting, the School Board approved a resolution supporting a pair of funding questions to be placed on the ballot in November.

One referendum would ask voters to increase the district’s operating levy by roughly $18 million annually. The other would ask voters to establish a capital projects levy, also known as a technology levy, that would generally an estimated $12 million annually.

The referendums are part of Graff’s strategy to restructure the district’s revenue and expenses amid chronic budget shortfalls. The strategy also calls for minimizing the use of reserve funds this school year; creating a balanced budget for 2018–2019 through “targeted” budget reductions; creating a structurally balanced budget for 2019–2020 based on a comprehensive district-wide assessment; and working at the Legislature to increase funding for special education and English-learner services.

Graff has said that more than 20 other metro districts utilize capital-projects levies to address technology costs, which the district largely covers through its general fund. He said the district would begin seeing revenue from the referendums during the 2019–2020 school year if approved.

In a document from January, the district projected that the referendums would increase annual taxes by $83 for a residential property valued at $150,000; $175 for a residential property valued at $300,000; and $491 for a residential property valued at $800,000.

The School Board will need to approve a tax-impact table and a resolution containing the exact ballot language, among other statements, before the referendums can be placed on the ballot. State law requires the board to approve that resolution by Aug. 24, according Ryan Strack, manager of homeless and highly mobile student services at MPS.

Achievement and integration budget changes

Also on Feb. 13, the board heard about proposed changes to how the district plans to fund programs that are part of its achievement and integration plan.

The district plans on funding several achievement and integration programs, such as Urban Debate League and Project Success, with other funding sources next year. That will allow more funding to go to other achievement and integration programs and initiatives, such as support for family engagement and magnet school transportation.

MPS is required by state law to have an achievement and integration plan, which the state approved last year. The district is slated to receive about $15.6 million annually during the 2017–2018, 2018–2019 and 2019–2020 school years for the plan, which funds over 20 programs and initiatives.

The district in the past has used the program to fund its participation in the West Metro Education Program, an inter-district collaborative that provides professional development and training. But the district will instead use that money for its own professional development and for a partnership with the St. Louis Park district, after the School Board voted to withdraw from WMEP.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the amended achievement and integration budget next month.

Washburn debaters, Lake Harriet principal honored

The school board also honored several MPS students and staff before the Feb. 13 meeting, including the state champion debate team from Washburn High School.

Washburn’s Grace Klage and Alex Dresdner and their teammates Lily Endo and Luke Peichel were honored, along with other MPS debate participants. The four made state history last month when they became the first teams from the same school to make the finals of the state tournament.

The board also honored Lake Harriet Community School lower campus principal Merry Tilleson, who received a leadership award from the Minnesota Elementary School Principals Association earlier in February.