MINNEAPOLIS, MN–When superintendent Bernadeia Johnson took over the struggling Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) two years ago, she pledged to renew the district’s commitment to transparency andaccountability. Minneapolis Public Schools had a reputation for secrecy and evasiveness, a reputation they earned. Unfortunately, despite the district’s renewed commitment to open government, some things never change.
Take, for example, the current Minneapolis district’s teacher contract. The district was under a great deal of scrutiny as parents, taxpayers, and even liberal education reform advocates urged the district to follow through on their commitment to accountability, particularly in regards to teachers’ performance. During negotiations, the superintendent assured the public that MPS was working “alongside our teachers’ union on many substantial reforms that will convert MPS into a model urban school district”. Then, after seemingly endless, secret negotiations between the district and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), the long-anticipated contract was approved in mid-April.
So what’s in the contract?
Well, more than four months after it was ratified, no one can say for sure. No one, that is, except the teachers’ union and school district.
Earlier this summer, the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota submitted a Data Practices Act request to the district to obtain a copy of the complete teachers’ contract. The district responded by claiming the contract, which was approved four and a half months ago, was still being finalized. Perhaps most disturbingly, the district says, “the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers takes the lead in developing the strikethrough and final contract”.
FFM requested the contract from the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, but was told, “the finalized document takes a very long time to publish” and is not available. The union instead referred FFM to an executive summary and to a previous teachers’ contract, which they said “really do give the entire thing while you wait”. The union’s website also says the “2011-13 Complete Collective Bargaining Agreement is still being finalized” and advises people to “please direct any contract questions to MFT59 directly”.
So not only is the public in the dark about the full contents of a contract they’re already paying for, but the contract is in the hands of a government union that is not accountable to voters or taxpayers. Labor relations experts told FFM that the contract delay and the union’s role in finalizing the contract are highly unusual.
According to media reports earlier this year, the school board has also repeatedly refused to turn over recordings of the labor negotiations that yielded the current contract.
Secret labor negotiations and secret labor contracts. Apparently this is what passes for transparency and accountability in Minneapolis.