District, teachers union reach tentative contract agreement

Minneapolis Public Schools and its teachers union have reached a tentative 2017–2019 contract agreement, the district announced March 12.

The agreement is pending approval by the School Board and a vote later this month by union members.

Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff said in a statement that he’s pleased the district found a way to “honor our teachers within the realities of building a financially sustainable future for Minneapolis Public Schools.”

“I am confident that the terms of the agreement create the conditions for success for both MPS teachers and students,” he said.

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Michelle Wiese said in the statement that the union’s focus during negotiations and its “continuing fight” is for “the schools all students deserve.”

Neither the district nor the union released details of the contract, negotiations for which moved into private mediation in January. But local education writer Beth Hawkins posted a copy of the proposed settlement on her website, BethHawkins.org.

The proposed contract includes a 0.5 percent increase on all steps and lanes for the 2017–2018 and 2018–2019 school years, with the first increase retroactive to July 1, 2017. It allows the union to send communications to teachers’ district emails accounts for certain purposes, not including political campaigning or soliciting members. It also allows the district to exempt teachers who have gone through the district’s Grow Your Own accelerated licensure programs from seniority-based layoffs.

The district and the union agreed to new memorandums of agreement around standardized tests, restorative practices and short-term disability. The district will notify students and families of their opt-out rights, form a committee focused on restorative practices and establish a voluntary short-term disability benefit under those three proposals.

In an interview, teachers union executive board member Mary Manor said the agreement came after three straight days of negotiations, including an 18-hour negotiating session on March 10. They said the agreement would become finalized if at least 50 percent of union members approve it.

Manor reiterated that the union’s focus during negotiations was for “the schools that our students deserve,” and they said that work would not stop with the conclusion of negotiations. They said advocacy work going forward would focus on the two referendums that the district is looking to pass in November.

If approved by voters, the referendums would raise approximately $30 million annually beginning in the 2019–2020 school year. One would increase the district’s operating levy, renewed by voters in 2016, by $18 million annually. The other would establish a capital projects levy for technology costs, which would generate an estimated $12 million annually.

Manor said teachers union members are always a huge help to the district when it comes to passing referendums, noting that members knock on doors and participate in phone banks. They said the union would make sure that the School Board and district leaders draft the referendums in a way that “we see is beneficial for schools.”

They also noted that the negotiated 2017–2019 contract is retroactive, meaning the union and the district will have to begin negotiating a new contract relatively soon.

The union and district began negotiations on the 2017–2019 contract this past fall with public sessions. The union framed its negotiation strategy around the idea of “bargaining for the common good.” It pitched proposals to lower class sizes, guarantee a nurse, social worker and counselor in every school building and guarantee 30 minutes of recess of for all students, among others.

District negotiators pitched proposals to allow for flexibility on the length of the school year and the number of teacher duty days and to change the way the district pays out insurance benefits, among others.
The district announced on March 7 that it had agreed to four memorandums of agreement with the teachers union in time-sensitive areas related to the budget. One of those agreements will allow Southwest High School to retain its status as a community partnership school in 2018–2019. That status is pending two-thirds vote of approval by licensed staff at the school and evidence that Southwest is making progress towards its goals outlined in its community partnership school agreement.