The Proposed MFT/MPS Contract Is Out and It’s… A Little Sleepy

You know that old saw about much ado?

After months of name calling, ugly memes and board room protests, the proposed contract between the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Minneapolis Public Schools has been circulated. By my read it’s mostly a win for district leaders.

Well. Except for all of the posturing and base-energizing on the part of the union. And the very real harm done to a number of MPS employees who became collateral damage after they were pilloried for their “associations” with organizations – including a district funder – demonized by the MFT.

It’s not at all what I had expected. The district has no pennies to squeeze, so I had imagined it would give on all of the non-monetary demands on the table, which ranged from a provision that would have allowed teachers to exclude students with disciplinary histories from their classrooms to provisions guaranteeing access to potential union members should the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision in Janus vs. AFSCME deal labor the expected blow.

I’m also surprised because the Minneapolis School Board has three members – one third of its seats – who must recuse themselves because they have a conflict of interest with the MFT. One is an education organizer with the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, to which the union belongs, while the other two are married to members of the Minneapolis or St. Paul Federations.

They might not vote, but they certainly wouldn’t be expected to back the superintendent and his leadership team in the trenches. And yet unlike their counterparts in St. Paul, MPS negotiators seem to have succeeded in keeping policy questions off the bargaining table.

March might be going out like a lamb, in short.

(What’s that? You want to see the actual proposal? Okay, here it is.)

The highlights:

  • Chief off the top, the new contract contains a clause exempting – though the key word is “may” — new teachers, most of them of color, who were trained in the Grow Your Own program from layoff by seniority.

The actual number of teachers potentially impacted is not likely to be huge, and indeed may pale in comparison to the number of teachers of color threatened with layoff for budgetary reasons. But symbolically this one is enormous.

  • A .5 percent increase on each salary step and lane retroactive to July 1, 2017 and another of the same size for 2018-2019. Benefits remain unchanged.
  • The MFT may use district email to communicate to members, but on business matters and not as an organizing tool.
  • The MFT will receive weekly updates on district employees, but not some of the personal information on new hires it was seeking.
  • Gone is a particularly hideous section which called on the district to refuse to accept transfer students with disciplinary histories and granted teachers the right to bar individual students from their classrooms.
  • Gone also are demands the district have nothing to do with public charter schools and require items that would facilitate the unionizing of staff at charters that lease or buy MPS buildings.
  • Changes to the hiring process give current teachers a slight advantage over potential hires who are not now MFT members, but the shift is minor.
  • The district will inform families at the start of the year in several languages of their right to opt students out of the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.

This might count as ceding a battle already lost. Federal law penalizes the state if 95 percent of eligible students do not attempt the tests, and the district has relied heavily on the results for all kinds of strategic planning. And yet last year’s tests were a sham and district brass appeared too paralyzed to demand teachers actually administer them.

  • Changes to teacher evaluations might or might not be reasonable. I for one have not heard teachers grouse about being observed and in fact have heard some hunger for better, faster, more meaningful feedback. Let’s put a pin in this one until Educators for Excellence or another group of teachers who understand the nuances have weighed in.

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