Friday, January 22, 2010

To everything, a season

The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers knew that we were going to have difficult contract negotiations when we formed our team last year. Starting in February 2009, the Board of Education publicly and prominently took every opportunity to unilaterally impose a non-negotiated wage and benefit freeze on us. Yet, while the economy was already daunting and the budget discussion at the legislature and Board of Education had our attention, what also had us concerned was that we were going to be negotiating a contract amidst a great deal of uncertainty. The superintendent was leaving, three school board members were up for re-election, two of our high schools were going through grueling and punishing restructuring, and American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds were being spent in our district without any teacher input.

We realized we had a choice: we could try to ride it out or we could show leadership ourselves and steer the ship. We decided to take the opportunity to show leadership and go into this round of contract negotiations with a powerful set of values guiding our agendas, our discussions, and our decisions. We focused our priorities in values that recognize the most important work in education occurs between educator and student,knowing that effective decision-making in education must arise from an educator’s professional practice in order to be good for students, and we wanted to ensure that educators are valued and that teaching is a sustainable profession. We were determined to show that our union is committed to help deliver excellent education to all learners and it can be done through our contract.

As a result, we sought to move the most important decisions made on behalf of students closer to students and into the hands of professional classroom teachers. Because of this focus, we won a significant opportunity for teachers and support staff to be integrally involved in their school restructuring when it has to occur, rather than forcing them to sit and watch it happen to their students and their school community. We won the opportunity to have a serious discussion about site-governed schools in our district, which will bring much-needed, community-specific conversations about what is best for students directly to the teachers who serve them. We won the ability to create a comprehensive, ‘full-spectrum’ peer assistance and review program that will substantially improve the support teachers get to remain effective as well as strengthening the achievement of tenure process during the three-year probationary period.

We reject the notion that our recent contract settlement was little more than a myopic agreement on wages. Our contract settlement signaled an opportunity to begin to trust teachers with decisions made about teaching and learning. Our very modest wage increases, despite the public and persistent pressure to freeze our salary and benefits, merely begin to recognize the additional responsibilities we have to our students. The decision-making agreed to offers an opportunity to continue steering the ship for our profession and the students we serve.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tentative Agreement for Teachers

The Values guiding our negotiating work:
• The most important work in education occurs between educator and student
• Effective decision-making in education must arise from educators’ professional practice
• By ensuring that educators are valued and that teaching is a sustainable profession, our union helps deliver excellent education to all learners

With these goals in mind, the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers achieved the following in our 2009 contract negotiations:
*A starting salary of $40,000+ for beginning teachers in 2010
*Stronger standards for achievement of tenure, both in additional administrative observations and in the development of a full-spectrum peer assistance and review program (see below).
*Moved significant decision-making into our professional hands:

Full-spectrum Peer Assistance and Review
The union successfully negotiated the development of a “full-spectrum” peer assistance and review program. Our PAR program will recognize teaching as a profession of life-long learning and move away from the deficit-based thinking about teacher evaluation. The St. Paul PAR program will be developed to offer support in the traditional peer assistance and review areas by offering a more comprehensive and thorough achievement of tenure program as well as offer assistance to teachers identified as struggling in addition to offering support for teachers who self-identify or anticipate difficulties in a new or returning assignment and want to be supported in order to prevent failing. The St. Paul PAR program will also have significant opportunities for already strong teachers to explore new professional pathways (such as becoming a Master teacher in the CareerTeacher program), challenges (such as earning National Board Certification), and other opportunities to enhance their professionalism and/or give back to the profession (training to become a mentor, for example.) Just as good teachers differentiate instruction to meet the needs of every learner, our peer assistance and review program will differentiate to meet the needs of every teacher and be an asset to the profession.

Transforming our schools through restructuring
The union successfully negotiated a comprehensive process for school restructuring when restructuring is called for by No Child Left Behind or by the Board of Education. The restructured school will have a complete “Election to Work” agreement presented to staff by February 15th the year before the proposed restructuring that will be developed cooperatively with the staff and mutually approved by the union and the district that explicitly outlines:
• The application and selection process for staff, if there is to be one
• The vision and expected instructional program of the school
• The hours of instruction and length of the school day as well as the expected degree of flexibility that will be required of the staff
• The length of the school year and the school calendar
• The expected length of time teachers may be required to be present in the school outside of the school’s instructional day
• Any additional compensation program that will apply to the particular Restructured School that is different from the standard compensation schedule.
Further, contract language was secured that would require an annual review of restructured schools to determine the success of the restructuring and to identify practices and approaches that should be duplicated or avoided.

Site-governed Schools
The union also won a statement of intent on Site-governed schools that will be added to the contract recognizing the extraordinary opportunity the Minnesota Site-governed school statute (123B.045) offers to create innovative school environments better designed for individual school populations. The district agreed to form a committee to begin exploring the opportunity this new legislation presents for our students immediately upon ratification of the contract to report and recommend to the superintendent and the SPFT Executive Board as soon as possible, but no later than May 1, 2011.

Thank You
The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers could not have won such comprehensive professional contract language if it wasn’t for the significant support, ideas and mentoring of our fellow local teachers unions. We owe a great deal of debt to the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, the Toledo Federation of Teachers, the Rochester Federation of Teachers, the New Haven Federation of Teachers, the Hillsborough (FL) Classroom Teachers Association, and the leaders of the AFT Teachers Program and Policy Council. We are indebted to our state union Education Minnesota for their support of our members and our national union the American Federation of Teachers for their belief in our ideas. Finally and notably, we are grateful to our members in St. Paul for trusting us to negotiate a contract on behalf of them, the students we serve, and the profession to which we’re dedicated.