While we wait to find out what’s in the proposed contract settlement between St. Paul Public Schools and its teachers announced Monday morning, let’s visit about a few associated items, shall we?
Does anybody remember the coup de gras leaders of the current St. Paul School Board delivered to former Superintendent Valeria Silva? Recruited, funded and swept to electoral victory by the teachers’ union, the first thing they did upon taking office two years ago was to settle the last contract talks by granting raises of 2 percent in each of the next two years, to the tune of $21 million. On top of the contract’s automatic “step and lane” increases, which cost an additional 2 percent to 4 percent a year.
This of course exacerbated the district’s shortfall, which the new board majority believed could be made by up by cutting fat at the administrative level. They didn’t like the budget Silva presented, sent her back to do it their way and when the river of superfluous money failed to appear volunteered to buy out her contract. They didn’t have cause to let her go, so the cost of this maneuver approached $1 million.
And so how bitter is the irony that in recent weeks these same relative board newcomers have found themselves pleading publicly that there is no money? And that their 2016 decision in fact compounded the size of the shortfall today?
Do we think there has been any self-reflection on this point? I mean, it would not have been very high road for those same board members to vent about any betrayal they might be feeling right about now, but certainly they might acknowledge they helped get things to this point.
Teacher unions in both Minneapolis and St. Paul this year proposed contract language prohibiting the placement of teachers holding the yet-to-be created Tier 1 and Tier 2 licenses from holding jobs in schools where 70 percent or more of students are impoverished and from “teacher on special assignment” positions, e.g. math coach to the math teachers.
In case you don’t spend your Saturday nights reading the agate type of statutory language on licensure, here’s what that means: For eight years many education advocates have been working to get Minnesota bureaucrats to uphold a law now passed three times that says teachers who have success records in other states or who were trained in alternative programs can work in classrooms here.
The provincial resistance was so stiff that last year lawmakers finally just blew up the Board of Teaching entirely, creating a new organization and a wholly new set of rules. Under the new law educators may enter Minnesota schools at Tier 1 or Tier 2 and earn their way to tiers 3 and 4.
Oh, well, wait – unless districts are barred from hiring them. Because contracts in both districts basically ensure that schools with fewer impoverished students are staffed by teachers with the seniority to bid into them.
Also maddening: Many prospective Tier 1 and Tier 2 teachers WANT to work in those high-poverty schools.
Teachers in district-run “Grow Your Own” training programs – a major source of new educators of color in Minneapolis anyhow – are Tier 2 teachers. So what will happen to these desperately needed diverse hires who have been educated at district expense?
Yeah, Tier 1, Tier 2, licensure – admit it, you fell asleep 200 words ago so you’re not going to notice when those new teachers can’t get jobs in their home districts.
And as long as we’re picking nits, they’re not actually being trained at district expense in Minneapolis. The lion’s share of the funding for that program being provided by the advocacy group Minnesota Comeback, which is being vilified by union leadership and by at least one board member.
Remember the nasty, nasty meme of two weeks ago? MPS’ HR honcho was on the chart for serving on an advisory committee to Comeback. In which capacity no one seems to care she brought home major bacon.
Other teacher-friendly things Comeback funds: A study on retention of teachers of color, leadership training for educators who want to take on bigger roles, Community Partnership Schools where teachers have major say over how learning takes place, new curriculum and, at the request of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, funding for a campaign to support the last referendum.
Many of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 teachers who would no longer be hire-able are educators of color. In recent years MPS has hired large numbers of teachers of color and miraculously managed to hang onto most. In addition to the wrench a prohibition on these new teachers would throw into the work of diversifying, most of the new teachers of color will be laid off this year.
Minneapolis has sitting board members who are cheering all of this on. Seriously, KerryJo Felder seems to be looking forward to a union picket of her own board meeting.
And Rebecca Gagnon – who must have a political base to play to in her statehouse bid – has fanned the flames about “associations” between district leaders and folks she dislikes, including Minnesota Comeback.
If there is any remorse circulating in St. Paul, perhaps a round of phone calls across the river would assuage. Barring that I’m betting that when we learn the details of the settlement we’ll learn the non-monetary store has been given away.