Minneapolis educators rally for “fully-funded schools”
By Cirien Saadeh | Staff Reporter
Over 300 Minneapolis educators with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), as well as students, parents, and administrators rallied at the Davis Center on Tuesday night for “fully-funded schools,” and to continue demanding that Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) engage with MFT in contract negotiations.
According to Michelle Wiese, the MFT teacher’s president and a lead negotiator, MFT has been engaged in contract negotiations with MPS since 2017. Currently, MPS educators are operating under a contract continuation of their 2015-2017 contract with MPS. The negotiations were moved into mediation on Jan. 16-18 with future mediation meetings scheduled. According to MPS, MPS and MFT have met seven times for negotiation and four times for mediation.
“I want to strongly encourage the Board to engage in conversations for the schools all our students deserve. Our hope today was to raise awareness about what we are bargaining for,” said Wiese.
MFT demands include smaller class sizes; recess for all students; less testing; more school support personnel including the school nurse, a social worker, counselor, psychologist, and library media specialist in every school, restorative practices, clean and healthy classrooms, full-service community schools, fully-funded schools, a $15 minimum wage for all MPS employees, and inclusion and equity for all. According to MPS Senior HR Executive Maggie Sullivan, while MPS agrees with MFT on many of these points, MPS does not feel contract negotiations are the appropriate space for some of these issues and discussions.
MPS has also named ten values guiding its own negotiations with MFT. These beliefs include: student-centered learning; academic excellence, equity, and accessibility for all students, a teachers and staff as valuable partners in student learning, quality teaching, recruiting and retaining a high quality and diverse teaching staff, strategic resource use, leadership in student success at all levels of education, engaged parents and families, and “working together.”
MPS is currently facing a $33 million deficit for its 2018-2019 budget, which has further complicated teacher’s contract negotiations. According to data from MPS, MPS educators are seeing salary increases annually – with a minimum of 5% salary increases last year and this year. According to MPS, MFT’s proposals would cost the district $160 million. According to Sullivan, even with district cuts adding up to $27 million, there would still be a $6 million hole to fill – the district will be asking Minneapolis taxpayers and the state legislature for additional funding support over the next year.
“We’ve exchanged quite a few proposals, a lot of ideas are shared. I think we are really committed to a contract that creates the working conditions for our teachers to be successful so our students can be successful,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan also spoke on the mediation process. According to MFT representatives, the mediation process takes the contract negotiations away from the public eye. Sullivan contends that MPS went to mediation in order to expedite the contract negotiation process.
The MFT rally took place outside of the Davis Center for over an hour with hundreds of educators and allies gathered to chant and march up and down W Broadway Ave. and around the Davis Center. It went on for an another 30 minutes inside the MPS Board meeting, which forced a delay of the Business Meeting start time.
The protest was not the only point of tension in the meeting. Directors Rebecca Gagnon, Ira Jourdain, and Kerry Jo Felder (District 2) advocated for a resolution related to school climate written by students to be moved in the agenda from “New Business,” – which occurs late in the meeting when it would be difficult for students to be present – to earlier in the meeting, which caused a 15-minute high-energy debate among the Board members related to Board priorities, student voices, transparency, and Board rules.
“Positively, I ended up being on a list of protests for the Super Bowl. Coordinated protests that included transit, US Bank Stadium, others. They picked two elected officials: Mayor Frey and me. So I had a very large group of folks come to my house and protest. There were a lot of the students and so I reached out and said, ‘you didn’t reach out to me so try calling,’ and they reached out and we sat down and had a conversation at Dunn Bros. on Friday,” said Gagnon. According to Gagnon, the original protest pertained to MPS usage of the School Resource Officer program. Currently MPS has a three-year contract with Minneapolis Police Department SRO program that can be renegotiated each year.
Gagnon said she attended the Friday meeting and then worked with the students – junior high and high schoolers – to author a proposed resolution related to the SRO program and other school climate issues. According to MPS protocol, to bring the new item to the meeting, Gagnon needed support from two other committee members. She shared the resolution with Felder and Jourdain, who offered their support. However, during the committee, tension arose when others asked why they had not had time to also see the proffered resolution. According to Gagnon, she had shared the resolution with the Chair and others as required, but had not sent it out to other directors, lest discussion occur violating Open Discussion Law.
The resolution was briefly discussed during the “New Business” portion of the meeting and will be discussed more thoroughly at the next MPS Board meeting on March 13.
The proposed resolution asks MPS to fully support and fund restorative justice practices, to allow students to help MPS identify funding priorities and research alternatives to the SRO program, and to hold an open meeting with students before the end of the 2017/2028 school year in order to discuss and impact decisions made for the 2018/2019 school year.
“They were stoked about the resolution and I was so proud of them because it is very constructive. It acknowledges the deficit, it acknowledges other issues, and it acknowledges that there is another committee, and they value that work,” said Gagnon, “They came to me and said “this is how we want to be heard and I was just not going to muck with that.”