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Widespread approval greets MPS board’s OK of new contract with teachers

“This agreement is an example of how much we can accomplish if we sit down and treat each other with mutual respect,” said Alberto Monserrate.

Tuesday night, after almost universally approving comments, the Minneapolis School Board approved a new two-year contract with the district’s teachers. A wave of applause rippled through the assembly room at district headquarters, so often the site of acrimony.

Alberto Monserrate

“Some of you have heard my frustration over time about the polarized education debate,” said Alberto Monserrate, who was board chair during much of the time the contract was being negotiated. “This agreement is an example of how much we can accomplish if we sit down and treat each other with mutual respect. … This is a win for the teachers and a win for our kids.”

It’s the first Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) contract inked in more than a decade that has been greeted with such widespread approval. And it’s a far cry from what the polarized camps Monserrate referred to expected even a scant two months ago.

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The board also approved a new, similarly progressive contract with Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) principals.

“My oldest child turns 21 this year,” said board member Carla Bates. “This is a point in time where the district is the most stable it’s ever been. There are significant resources that we are going to allocate tonight with our vote — huge decisions.”

Everyone involved needs to dig in now, she added. “I just know we will be here in two years, right? Talking about another one.”

Lynn Nordgren and Bernadeia Johnson

District insiders credited Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson and MFT President Lynn Nordgren for acting decisively.

In a public forum last May, Johnson unveiled “Shift,” a proposal to transform the way MPS’ highest- and lowest-performing programs are staffed and structured. A majority of the nine school board members in attendance was then thought to be reluctant to rankle the union.

Much of the community expected a showdown, and when the MFT last fall exercised its right to have a state mediator close contract negotiations to the public, community activists and members of Students for Education Reform began holding vigils outside the union’s northeast Minneapolis headquarters.

The agreement announced in early March took nearly everyone by surprise. Except for board members, who had been insisting resolutely since Johnson’s May event that they stood united behind the Shift proposal.

In addition to raises for teachers both this year and next, the deal includes a side agreement to cap class sizes at MPS’ most struggling schools and a provision that allows for dramatically expanded staffing and scheduling flexibility at “Partnership” schools.

Applauding the agreement, board member Tracine Asberry called for transparency and accountability going forward. How the plan is implemented, she pointed out, will be crucial: “I think our community deserves it, our students deserve it.”

Board member Josh Reimnitz concurred. “The teachers did their part, they showed up and they negotiated,” he said. “Now it’s on us to implement it.”

Richard Mammen, who assumed the board chair post in January, congratulated his colleagues. “This board has been pretty strong,” he said as he called for a vote. “On that, hearing no other questions, I will call the question.”