Duluth teachers seek more pay for increased workload
The Duluth teachers union is attempting to lower class sizes through contract negotiations — by way of a capped number of students in a teacher’s day in middle and high schools, or more pay if the number goes beyond that.
The sizes of several classes at Denfeld and East high schools and Ordean East Middle School were large last year, ranging from 40 to 49 students at the highest count.
The Duluth teachers union is attempting to lower class sizes through contract negotiations — by way of a capped number of students in a teacher’s day in middle and high schools, or more pay if the number goes beyond that. It also wants more money for teachers willing to work in low-performing schools and who juggle two grades in one classroom.
The Duluth school district is proposing no increases to salaries — save for training and education — and more flexibility in assigning qualified teachers to low-performing schools instead of relying solely on seniority.
Both sides’ initial proposals for 2013-15 contract negotiations include some minor tweaks and some bigger changes that would affect the pocketbooks of each, were they accepted.
“Teachers have a concern about class sizes,” said Bill Hanson, business services director for the district. “If I were them, I would be concerned, too. But rather than the district saying, ‘We’re working on it,’ they are going to try to push us in that direction and I understand where they are coming from.”
The current contract expired June 30. As of last week, only 18 of the 317 school districts tracked by Education Minnesota, the state teachers union, had settled teachers contracts, according to the organization.
First proposals in Duluth were given in late April, and the union and district have met and discussed items a handful of times.
What teachers want
Highlights from the Duluth Federation of Teachers initial proposal include:
- Teachers in middle and high schools want a maximum number of 160 students within the five classes they teach that require preparation — an average of 32 per class. Those that have more students, they propose, should be compensated 1/6 of their salary.
- No specific number was given, but the union wants an increase in yearly salary to reflect cost-of-living increases and additional responsibility. Teachers, and most other district employees because of a “me too” clause, received a 1 percent salary increase the first year of the current contract and a 1.5 percent increase the second year.
- It wants teachers at priority and focus schools to work an extra week at their regular rate plus get paid an additional $1,000. Laura MacArthur Elementary is the only current priority school, named so by the state for being among the lowest achieving in Minnesota. Focus schools, of which Lincoln Park Middle School and Piedmont Elementary are currently, are among the state’s schools most responsible for the achievement gap. Each was required this year to create a plan and follow it to make gains.The achievement gap is the disparity between: white students and other ethnic groups; students who receive special education services and those who don’t; students who live in poverty and those who don’t; and students learning English and those who speak it as their native language.
Because there are additional requirements at those schools, said union president Frank Wanner, the extra pay would help attract teachers to those schools.
“We’re afraid no one is going to apply,” he said. “The district must think too many people are going to apply. We all agree these are high-stress schools with a lot of needs requiring a lot of work.”
- It wants compensation to be increased for teachers of split classes; $500 yearly in classes with fewer than 30 students and $1,000 in classes of more than 30 students.
- It says that if the number of minutes or days increases in the school year, compensation should be proportionate.What the district wants
Highlights of the school district’s proposal include:
- It wants to increase the number of instruction hours at East and Denfeld high schools to comply with the state education department’s suggested number. The schools are about 20 hours short. The change isn’t mandated, said district human resources manager Tim Sworsky, but it probably will be soon.
- It wants more flexibility when it comes to assigning and transferring teachers to priority and focus schools and for other achievement gap intervention positions.The union already has agreed to a memorandum of understanding, Wanner said, for new online programming that would allow the district to interview for teaching positions rather than give them to the most senior teachers because of the specificity of the online instruction.
Sworsky said teachers sometimes end up in a position where they don’t fit because of seniority.
Under its new system, the state can replace staff at low-performing schools, such as Laura MacArthur, if there is no improvement.
“You want teachers who want the work and have the desire. It hasn’t been a big issue for us; we are fortunate,” Sworsky said. “We’re just looking for more flexibility in determining who the staff is so we never get to that point.”
- It wants teachers who have single coverage health insurance to pay 20 percent toward their premiums. They pay nothing now. It also wants full health-care benefits offered only to full- and 0.8-time employees rather than to employees at 0.5-time or greater, as currently required.
- It proposes a pay freeze each year of the contract, with the exception of more education or training.The pay freeze, Wanner said, after dealing with larger class sizes and more state mandates, is like “negative merit pay. You work hard, you do a good job, you get less. I don’t believe they mean it that way, but to teachers, that’s how it will come across.”
- It and the union want more meeting time for teachers for professional development.Negotiations, both Wanner and Sworsky said, have been civil and are moving along.
“We will reach an agreement on these issues,” Wanner said. “The whole emphasis has been how can we work together to improve relationships, to improve education.”