Minneapolis Public Schools estimates the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers has proposed contract changes that would cost nearly $115 million over two years. The estimate does not include proposals the union presented after Nov. 29, 2023.

The way the district estimates the cost of contract changes is not part of the bargaining process, or subject to bargaining, leaving the district with the final say over the estimated costs.

The district and union have completed six public bargaining sessions as the two sides work to develop a new contract. Under Minnesota law, the previous contract remains in effect, despite expiring on July 1. Although neither side has finished presenting its proposals, the teacher chapter filed for mediation on Dec. 19, following a negotiation session with the district the previous day.

The district and teachers’ union have at least one more public negotiating session scheduled on Jan. 11. Mediation will officially begin once the district and union have met with the mediator. At that time, negotiations will be closed to the public. Mediation is scheduled to start on Feb. 29.

The district is also in negotiations with its educational support professionals. Their contract also expired on July 1.

Salary and Benefits Proposals

The union has proposed a wide range of contract changes that aim to reduce teacher workload and increase teacher pay. The union has proposed a salary increase of 8.5% in the first year of the contract, and an additional 7.5% salary increase in the second year. In its annual financial forecast, the district has assumed a 2.5% increase in labor costs across the district.

In current negotiations, the union is also asking for the district to increase its contribution to family health insurance coverage by $2,350 per year. Under the existing contract, the district covers the full cost of health insurance premiums for teachers under the two least expensive employee-only health plan options. The district currently pays $5,650 per year for family health insurance, which currently costs teachers between $665 and $842 per month, depending on the plan.

The district estimates that the union’s salary and benefit proposals would cost an additional $93 million over the two years of the contract.  

The district is projecting a $127 million budget deficit for the 2024-25 school year, if it maintains its current operations next school year. The projected deficit includes the increased State funding enacted in May 2023.

In 2022, the MPS teachers and educational support professionals union went on strike after failed contract negotiations with the district. The union was in mediation with the district starting in October 2021, following contract negotiations that began in February 2021. Union members voted to strike in February 2022 and on March 8, 2022 they went on strike for three weeks. The district and union reached a tentative agreement on March 25, with teachers returning March 28 and students a day later. To meet minimum state requirements for instructional days and times, the school year was extended until June 24, 2022, and 42 minutes were added to the remaining school days. The district estimated the 2021-23 contract would cost the district an additional $27 million each year, roughly $54 million over two years.

Workload Proposals

In addition to the salary and benefit proposals, the union has proposed a number of changes to reduce teacher workload. The district estimates that the workload proposals submitted through Nov. 29 would cost $12 million over the two years of the contract. The district has not estimated the cost of additional proposals made by the union after Nov. 29 which include proposals to reduce class sizes and caseloads.

At the Dec. 18 bargaining session, the district, represented by Alicia Miller, interim senior officer of Human Resources, said it was willing to agree to one union proposal. The union proposes changes to due process time for special education teachers. Due process time is the time special education teachers spend completing paperwork required by State and federal regulations. The district estimates that this change would cost an additional $1.8 million over the two years of the contract.

The district has rejected most of the other workload proposals made by the union. One union proposal asks to change the definition of the time teachers are not delivering instruction from “non-instructional time” to “non-student contact time.” During the bargaining sessions, the district said it opposed this change because it believes it could prevent teachers from meeting with students during that time.

Another proposal from the union would limit the amount of time teachers can be required to attend school events outside of their regular work day. Currently, teachers can be required to attend up to one open house and one marketing event outside of the regular work day each school year. They can also be required to attend conferences with caregivers for up to three days. There is currently one paid day off included in the contract to compensate for time spent at conferences.

The union asked to limit the open house and marketing events to no more than four hours, and to limit conferences to no more than twice per year, with the additional requirement conferences be scheduled during the teacher’s regular work day. The district opposed these changes, saying it would limit the ability of families to attend conferences, and limit opportunities to engage with families.

At the bargaining sessions, the union also proposed limiting the number of required meetings each week to one. The district rejected this proposal because it says weekly professional learning communities are an important practice in the district. The proposal would not provide time for additional meetings beyond the weekly professional learning communities that are currently required.

Both the union and district have proposed to reduce the number of days teachers work each year. Currently, Minneapolis Public Schools teachers have 196 work days, or what they call duty days, which includes six paid holidays. This is more work days than other districts in Minnesota. The district has 170 or 171 instructional days for students, more than the 165 days required by the State.

The union has proposed eliminating ten work days by removing four professional development days from the beginning of the school year, and removing paid holidays from the count of workdays, while continuing to be paid for the holidays. The district estimates that these changes would cost $13.4 million over the two years of the contract.

The district has proposed reducing the days teachers work before the school year starts by one day, and reducing the number of school days by three. The district proposal would require standardizing the school day to six hours and 40 minutes per day for all students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Standardizing the school day

The new standardized time would add ten minutes to the school day for most students, which would reduce the school year by three days. Overall, students would gain nearly thirteen hours per year of instructional time. For elementary students, the district proposes adding this time to recess because they require less instructional time.

For teachers, the district proposal would maintain the current eight-hour work day, by shifting ten minutes of non-instructional time to instructional time each day. The district estimates teachers would work thirty fewer hours per year.

By standardizing the school day, all high schools and middle schools would be able to implement a seven-period school day, which would provide two periods of prep time for teachers. Currently, not all high schools are structured around seven periods.

All high school students would also be able to access the new centralized Career and Technical Education programs. Currently, some high school students have difficulty participating in the program’s in-person courses because the times conflict with their schedule.

The district’s proposal would provide elementary students with up to three “snow days” per year and secondary students with up to two “snow days” per year. Currently, all middle school and some high school students are required to participate in online learning during emergency closures in order to meet the minimum instructional time required by the State.

Additional contract proposals

The union is proposing changes to special education caseloads, class sizes, and changes to job responsibilities for licensed media specialists. The district has not shared estimates of the costs of these proposals yet.

In addition to changes to the school calendar, the district has made a proposal on the hiring process at MPS. The current internal hiring process includes two rounds of interviews, followed by two additional processes called matching and placement. Open positions are not open to external candidates until mid-June in the current process, which is later than other school districts. The district says this makes it difficult for it to fill vacancies.

Under the proposed changes, interviews would be reduced to one round and matching would be eliminated. The matching process is a placement process for teachers who do not find a position through the interview process. The district says just 1% of teachers are hired through the matching process. Eliminating matching would allow the district to post openings for external candidates a month earlier. The union has not responded to this proposal, yet.

Due to the length of the current bargaining session, the district is proposing developing subcommittees within the current negotiation process. The subcommittees would develop four temporary Memorandum of Agreements that could be implemented before a full contract is negotiated. The district says reaching agreements on these issues soon is necessary for them to be implemented before the 2024-25 school year. One agreement would cover developing a process to implement contract provisions protecting underrepresented teachers from excessing and layoffs outside of seniority order. The district has not yet implemented those provisions that were added in 2022, and which are the subject of ongoing litigation.

A second agreement would address the contract provisions that currently prevent the district from reallocating staff across schools when vacancies are concentrated in specific schools. The current reassignment process only allows the district to move teachers mid-year based on enrollment. The third agreement would handle provisions in new State legislation related to paid time off and tenure. The fourth agreement would address the changes to the process for hiring teachers internally and changes to the duty year.

Statewide, contract negotiations for teachers started later this cycle than in typical years, as districts and unions waited to see what provisions would be included in the final education bills passed by the legislature in May. Negotiations are ongoing in other large districts, including Anoka-Hennepin and St. Paul Public Schools. Both districts have also filed for mediation with the State.

Is the union headed for another strike?

Requesting mediation is the first of several steps public employees must take before going on strike. Many times mediation can result in a contract, avoiding a strike. Under Minnesota statute, teachers can strike only when their contract is expired; it has been thirty days since the first meeting with a mediator, union representatives and district representatives; and neither party has requested binding arbitration or one party has rejected a request for binding arbitration. After meeting all three conditions, the union can file an intent to strike, which then requires negotiations to continue for at least ten more days before a strike can begin.

Recordings of bargaining sessions can be watched online. The district is providing a summary of each bargaining session on its website. The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers is sharing information about bargaining for the educational support professionals chapter on its website.