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Group calls on Minneapolis school district, union to protect teachers of color before strike

A group is asking MPS and MFT Local 59 to sign an agreement protecting teachers of color from seniority-based layoffs.

MINNEAPOLIS — A group of teachers, parents and community groups, including the Advancing Equity Coalition, are calling on both Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59 to protect Minneapolis teachers of color from getting laid off "ideally before a strike begins and definitely before the end of February."

According to public school board documents, enrollment and revenue are expected to decline over the next five years. As a result, MPS could lay off almost 180 teachers on average per year, with possibly 134 teachers getting laid off this year.

Over Zoom on Monday, the group said teachers of color would be disproportionately impacted by such layoffs because they often have lower seniority than white teachers.

"Teachers of color and indigenous teachers are extremely vulnerable to staff reductions," AEC Executive Director Kenneth Eban said.

"The newest hires are shown the door and there's 30 percent of those who are teachers of color," added Paula Cole, executive director of Educators for Excellence-Minnesota.

Cole said she was "excessed" within her first year of teaching.

"My principal came to me and told me that I may not have a job in that building the next year," she said. "It wasn't because I was a bad teacher. It wasn't because I wasn't respected by colleagues or school leadership. My position was on the chopping block."

Educator Alexis Mann says it also happened to her.

"I couldn't understand why that was even an option considering the impact I was having on the students I was working with that year," she said. "My students were reading an average of about 59 words per minute at the start of the school year. However, working with me, all of my students were able to read at or above grade level at the end of that year."

The document they're asking the district and union to sign is a memorandum of agreement they say is now almost a year old.

"Both sides have offered proposals that aim to protect teachers of color outside of seniority order," Eban said. "They can settle this agreement and sign on it without coming to a full agreement on the rest of their contract."

"We have now an emergency," Cole added. "We have teachers who are right now signing those letters where they acknowledge that they might not have a job next fall."

KARE 11 reached out to Minneapolis Public Schools and the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers to see if they will sign the agreement. While we have not yet heard back from the district, Greta Callahan, president of the teacher chapter of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals sent the following statement:

“The claim that a strike would automatically trigger large-scale layoffs of teachers of color is simply wrong. MPS is losing teachers, especially teachers of color, to resignations and retirements so quickly there’s virtually zero chance tenured teachers would be affected by budget cuts – cuts district administrators could simply choose to avoid altogether by spending federal COVID-19 relief dollars on teacher retention. We can’t fill all of the vacancies we currently have. And let’s remember if the MPS would agree to our contract proposals to reduce class sizes, shrink special education caseloads to reasonable levels, increase mental health supports, and raise pay for teachers and ESPs, there will be no need to release any teachers."

"Further, district administrators have the absolute authority to keep the probationary teachers they want. If MPS administrators release teachers of color, that would be a choice MPS is making to harm students, and our union will call them out if they try.”

MFT's proposed solution to retaining teachers of color can be viewed here.

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