St. Paul teachers union contract has to be approved before parents can learn what’s in it

Mar 3, 2016 by

 

ST. PAUL, Minn. – For the past several years, many parents in the St. Paul school district have been living in a state of anxiety over the safety of their children at school.

sppsNow the school board and teachers union have addressed the problem of violent and inappropriate student behavior in the wording of a new collective bargaining agreement.

Based on the few details available, the plan seems to resemble the same relaxed attitude toward student behavior that led to the chaotic conditions in the first place.

It will be based on “restorative practices, which emphasize relationship building over punishing students,” according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Unfortunately for parents and other district residents, there will be no chance to review and comment on the full details of the plan before it’s approved and implemented.

That’s because the school board and union are adhering to the age-old tradition of keeping details of tentative labor contracts under wraps until they are approved by both sides.

Teachers will vote on the contract on Friday. If they approve it, details will become available to the public at a school board meeting on Tuesday.

Never mind that the tentative deal involves crucial details about how the school board and teachers plan to keep schools and students safe. Never mind that the contract reportedly involves a significant raise for teachers that’s expected to throw the district into a budget deficit.

It’s none of the public’s business until teachers give their thumbs up. By then it will too late for residents to have their voices heard.

“The district and union released some details of the agreement Monday, but neither side intends to make the contract public unless and until teachers and the school board formally approve it,” the Pioneer Press reported.

A general lack of student discipline has created a state of tension and fear throughout the district for the past several years, and has worsened in recent months.

In one week in October, several teachers were injured when trying to stop an outbreak of fights between students, a student was found with a gun in his backpack, and a student was tased by a school resource officer after disrupting a classroom and repeatedly refusing to leave.

In December, a 16-year-old student assaulted and severely injured a high school teacher who was trying to break up a fight. The teacher has since filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming it failed to provide a secure environment.

In January a former St. Paul middle school teacher also filed a lawsuit against the district, claiming she was “punched, kicked and kneed by students on several occasions and endured regular verbal harassment that was vulgar and sexual in nature,” according to TwinCities.com.

One St. Paul teacher was recently quoted across the nation after she anonymously told a St. Paul columnist that “we’re afraid.”

Many tie the situation to the district’s consulting relationship with the Pacific Educational Group, a radical San Francisco company that contracts with public schools around the nation to address “white privilege.”

According to media reports and statements from various teachers, PEG played a leading role in the development and implementation of a more relaxed disciplinary approach toward black students in St. Paul, with an emphasis on reducing the number of suspensions.

Many say that new approach has led to increasing student violence, because students know that there will be no serious consequences for their actions.

Does the new teachers contract call for another dose of the failed policy toward misbehaving students?

“The district said the agreement calls for $4.5 million in new spending on school climate over the next three years in the form of school-level pilot programs — six schools in 2016-17, nine the next and 12 the following year — to implement restorative practices, which emphasize relationship building over punishing students,” the Pioneer Press reported.

“With $150,000 each, school-level teams will be free to decide what restorative practices should look like in their buildings. Schools must demonstrate overwhelming support from staff in order to qualify for a project.

“The tentative agreement also includes a commitment to hire the equivalent of 30 full-time counselors, social workers, nurses, psychologists and teachers of English language learners — another major element of the union’s school climate proposal.”

At least one teacher spoke up and said the plan doesn’t do enough to guarantee safer classrooms and hallways in district schools.

“I do not feel that there is enough urgency for now on issues of safety and building climate. The district and Local 28 needed to make a stronger statement that change will occur districtwide, now,” Roy Magnuson, who teaches at Como Park High School, was quoted as saying by the Pioneer Press.

Nobody knows for sure whether the 30 human-service employees who will be hired will have any impact on student behavior.

A bigger question at the moment is whether the district will be able to afford them.

The new teachers contract involves a 2 percent raise for teachers retroactive to the second semester of the current school year, and another 2 percent raise that becomes effective in July.

“The pay increases will cost the district $21 million in salary and benefits over two years,” the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

“Human resources director Laurin Cathey said that in total, the two-year agreement will cost the district $3.5 million more than what it said it could afford heading into negotiations. That means more budget cuts are likely in the coming years.”

The last new teachers contract, ratified in 2014, caused an $11 million budget deficit. As a result, the school board was unable to keep its promise to hire 10 new employees, including five elementary school psychologists, according to the Pioneer Press.

Those positions have been rolled into the 30 new positions created in the new contract. But what if the raises cause another deficit, as predicted? Will the hiring plans be set aside again?

Beyond that, will valuable student programs be jeopardized to make financial room for the teacher raises?

Parents have no way of knowing – and no way of acting on their concerns if they did.

That’s because they weren’t allowed at the bargaining table, and the solutions to their school district’s pressing problems are out of their hands.

Source: St. Paul teachers union contract has to be approved before parents can learn what’s in it | EAGnews.org

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