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Samuels, coalition want the public at teacher contract talks

Don Samuels
MinnPost photo by Beth HawkinsDon Samuels

Standing with a coalition of community leaders, Minneapolis City Council member and mayoral hopeful Don Samuels Wednesday decried the decision by the city’s teachers union to close contract negotiations to the public.

“As I’ve been saying for some time, it’s Minnesota Nice until the negotiations begin around Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS),” said Samuels. “And now we are seeing tactics that are not Minnesota Nice.”

The community leaders standing with Samuels, many of them members of the African American Leadership Forum and the Minnesota Council of Black Churches, called on officials of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) to meet with them at the “safe space” where they held the press conference, Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in south Minneapolis.

MFT President Lynn Nordgren did not immediately have a comment. Under Minnesota law, either party has the right to ask to enter mediation and to close the proceedings. The St. Paul Public Schools last week asked to take its contract talks into mediation.

MPS Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson Monday announced that the union had petitioned state mediators to close ongoing contract talks to the public. The district has asked the union for a series of changes that would enable the city’s 25 lowest-performing schools to import practices that have closed the achievement gap in other schools.

“No one here needs a reminder that Minnesota has some of the worst educational outcomes for kids of color,” Samuels said. “The people deserve a seat at the table. The people deserve to know each side’s position on every issue in the negotiations.”

“I am very deeply concerned, and as a matter of fact, outraged,” said Billy Russell, Friendship’s pastor and a longtime education advocate. “We are at a point where we cannot let the MFT close us out again.”

MSP’s ‘Shift’ plan

In May, Johnson announced “Shift,” a plan to free 20 percent to 30 percent of schools from a number of district rules and contract provisions in exchange for greater accountability. The plan would require the union to agree to staffing flexibility, longer school days and other changes the MFT has resisted during past negotiations.

Because the last two rounds of talks have also been closed at the union’s request, the public has had to rely on the eventual release of audio tapes of the sessions to evaluate each side’s characterizations of the progress or lack thereof. Because the release can be delayed for a number of reasons, advocates who have been attending the open sessions for years only recently began listening to the 2012 round, in which the district got a fraction of the changes asked for.

In her statement Monday, Johnson expressed frustration that the issues raised by the union during the first few months of talks were not pertinent to the contract. The talks were just beginning to get to substantive matters, she said.

“MFT has been discussing policy items that are not contract negotiable nor focused exclusively on teaching, such as ‘The Power of Play’ and ‘Parent, Family and Community Partnerships,’” she said. “MPS is focused on four key strategies that will help the district Shift to where we need to be to meet the learning needs of 21st century learners: staffing flexibility, teacher quality, strengthening high-priority schools and increased time for students and teachers.”

‘We know what works’

Samuels has previously thrown his support behind the Shift proposal, but he elaborated at Wednesday’s event. “At the African American Leadership Forum (AALF) we sat around for years trying to figure out why our schools were not succeeding and what it would take to turn our schools around,” he said.

Among other things, some participants founded the Hope Collaborative, which brought leaders from the nation’s 10 top-performing low-income schools to the Twin Cities to talk about the factors behind their success.

“The superintendent is talking about things we’ve been talking about for years,” he said. “We know what works and Shift has those components.”

Purposes of privacy

Chris Stewart
MinnPost photo by Beth HawkinsChris Stewart

Asked by MinnPost about the law that allows the unilateral closure of contract talks, St. Cloud School Board member Jerry von Korff said that the privacy sometimes allows one side to find a way to agree to something controversial.

It’s effective, in his experience, for the district to tell the mediator that it intends to continue communicating with the public and will take pains to do so in a way that is not inflammatory. Union leaders, he noted, continue to communicate with their members.

Co-Chair of the Council of Black Churches Bill English, who has also sat through past rounds of talks, praised Johnson’s statement opposing the closure as clear and direct.

“There are things that are good for kids that they don’t want to talk about in public,” said Chris Stewart, director of AALF and one of the people who has monitored the talks in person. “We are asking the MFT to bring themselves to the table with community members. Sit with us and figure this thing out.” 

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by mark wallek on 09/26/2013 - 09:51 am.

    Good on Mr. Samuels

    As far as the candidates go, Mr. Samuels looks to be the best pick for a real representative for human beings. With the glamour of the Rybak years winding down, maybe we can have a really hard working for the people sort of mayor it looks like Mr. Samuels will be. One cannot trust that any institution has human beings as the primary interest, so a public presence at these talks makes perfect sense. Schools are part of the political hot potato game, which is unfortunate. Schools need to educate, not indoctrinate, and a good representative sees the difference. Good on you Mr. Samuels, keep stirring things up.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/26/2013 - 11:41 am.

      Refresh my memory

      What authority does the Mayor of Minneapolis have over the schools? What is his/her exact connection with SSD 1?

      Mr. Samuels is just grandstanding. He is using the too easy target of teachers’ unions (remember–they’re BAD!) to advance his candidacy for Mayor. Schools are indeed an unfortunate part of the “political hot potato game.” Politicians coming in just to “stir things up” are just contributing to that unfortunate circumstance.

      • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 09/26/2013 - 04:14 pm.

        I keep asking this question, too. These folks hate to answer.. because the answer is so damning: NOTHING !!

        Another thing about Don Samuels: he voted to DISENFRANCHISE Minneapolis voters with his stadium vote. This corrupt boondoggle couldn’t have happened without the collaborators on the City Council, whose approval was required, and who had to make sure the residents of Minneapolis had no say in the matter.

        So the voters might associate Zygi Wilf’s name with Don Samuels.

        When you think of Zygi Wilf, think Don Samuels.

        When you think of Don Samuels, think Zygi Wilf.

        People in Minneapolis will be paying something on the order of $700 million dollars over the next 30 years due to Samuels’ vote, for virtually no economic benefit.

        I tremble to think what other great ideas Don Samuels may have !!

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/26/2013 - 11:09 am.

    This from the guy who voted to bypass the stadium referendum…

    Yeah, sure, the public all welcome to observe labor contract negotiations but none to welcome when it comes to stadium deals. Puleeese.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/26/2013 - 02:08 pm.

    “No immediate comment”

    I found this article to be almost painfully one-sided.

    Ms. Hawkins, don’t you think this is the kind of story that begs for a comment from the MFT? It’s not really breaking news, so holding it a day or two until they respond certainly wouldn’t hurt anything. Will you update it with a comment from the MFT?

  4. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 09/26/2013 - 06:06 pm.


    If I do get comment, of course I will append it. You may also note that the MFT did not comment to the Star Tribune, either. 

  5. Submitted by Roy Everson on 09/27/2013 - 01:55 am.

    Representative democracy

    “The people deserve a seat at the table.” Isn’t the School Board the people’s seat at the table?

    • Submitted by Jeffrey Reed on 09/27/2013 - 09:27 am.


      I get so sick of these people ranting and raving (see Lynnelle Mickelsen’s op-ed) about ‘the public’ being at the table. Enough of your do-gooder foundations, press conferences, and op-eds. If you don’t like the way negotiations are being handled then get off your respective behinds and run for the school board! After all,evidently it, just like the MFT, is run by a bunch incompetent folks as well.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/27/2013 - 02:39 pm.

        They can’t do that

        Running for the school board is out of the question. If they did, they might get elected. If they were elected, they would have to perform the actual functions of running the school district. It wouldn’t be about yelling, or making demands, or offering up facile “solutions.” There would be hard questions to answer, legitimate concerns to be heard ,and citizen constituencies to consider.

        It’s SO much easier to sit on the sidelines and scream. Mr. Samuels can bloviate all he wants, because even if he’s elected Mayor, he will have nothing to do with running the schools. The ranters can make noise and shill for fashionable corporatist ideas, and have the schools turn over to a bunch of fast-talking hucksters–excuse me, risk-taking innovators–who will use gullible parents and politicians as keys to opening taxpayer fund boondoggles with no accountability (I’m sorry, I mean high-performing, odds-beating charter schools). All for the children, of course.

        • Submitted by Joe Musich on 09/27/2013 - 08:33 pm.

          Well stayed comment.

          You go guy. Where is the longitudinal research to demonstrate these hucksters have accomplished anything ? This hero of the people wanted to do what with North High awhile ago ? Only if the new Vikings temple were to be built on let’s say Penn and Broadway would the kind of money the city is going to be spent on idolatry have helped our North side. Cf

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/28/2013 - 10:13 am.

    Well, this ends up being a non-story anyways

    Near as I can tell Samuel’s and his “coalition” are not parties to the contract negotiations anyways so this is just a back door way of inserting themselves into the process. The demand is silly, this is not how public contracts are negotiated and if Mr. Samuel’s wants to be Mayer he should know that. Where’s the demand that the Vikings lease negotiations with the stadium authority be open to the public etc? The contract itself is public domain once it’s signed. I hope the labor unions are paying close attention to this. Democrats are soooo used to having their cake and eating as well when it comes to labor support. They always claim to be big labor supporters but then join the anti-union rabble when the rubber hits the road.

  7. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/30/2013 - 08:28 pm.


    Seems a lot of folks missed the point:
    Contract negotiations are usually held not in the public forum. Meaning you get what comes out of the meat grinder. City hall has many-many-many open sessions and opportunities to contribute.
    When was the last time the school board open the doors for negotiations? So here we go “Shoot the messenger” on out of the box thinking, lets just keep banging away at the same old “failure” model.

    North High: Died under its own failure, for most your anger is displayed as “Shoot the Messenger” you didn’t have what it took to admit that the school was failing our community.

    Many of us didn’t agree with the Vikings pitch, however when we say we elect officials to make the tough big picture decisions, and then they have the integrity to make them, we are pretty hypocritical when we then through them under the bus!

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