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Minneapolis School Board Approves Teacher Contract

Board voted 7-2 in favor of contract that includes shorter vacations.

In a meeting that briefly threatened to degenerate from a well-mannered point-and-response into an all-out shouting match between school board members and members of the audience, the Minneapolis School Board voted 7-2 to approve a new contract with the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

The new contract adds four more days to all schools, and makes each day 15 minutes longer, among other changes.

Opponents of the new contract, including board members Carla Bates and Hussein Samatar, made passion-filled speeches saying the current contract will not go far enough to ensure Minneapolis's schools will close the enormous achievement gap between students of color and white students. Opponents also accused the district of caving to union demands.

"We sat in on those negotiations," Linden Hills resident and education activist Lynnell Mickelsen told the board. "We did not witness a cooperative relationship between two equal parties(...)it felt like MFT was negotiating with a shadow of itself."

Other opponents were angered that the contract did not give principals the ability to quickly fire "underperforming" teachers and protect new, untenured but successful teachers from layoffs caused by budget cuts and funding uncertainties.

Board members, Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson, and union leader Lynn Nordgren praised the contract and lashed out at what they called "lies" spread by opponents. Many said it laid the groundwork for bolder reforms in the future.

As board members went around the dais explaining their positions before the final vote, board member Richard Mammen and contract opponent Bill English began exchanging heated words over Mammen's anger at rhetoric and tactics used by English and other opponents of the current contract. The threat of a shouting match abated when bard Chair Alberto Monserrate intervened, appealing for civility. Still, several board members were visibly angered by the debate.

"This contract accomplishes far more than the contract we negotiated two years ago," board member Jill Davis said, anger rising in her voice. "Then, we were engaged in a power struggle and not discussing what we needed to do for kids."

After all board members had spoken, Monserrate referenced his many years of experience in the private sector in defending the contract.

"I never achieved culture change by insulting, intimidating, or imposing," he said. "I got it by going to the front line, to my employees, to get ideas about how we can get better together."

Complete details of the contract will be made public soon, Monserrate promised.

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