See more of the story

Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson on Monday blasted a request by the union representing Minneapolis teachers to seek help from a state mediator, which effectively closes contract negotiations to the public.

Johnson called the request "hasty and disrespectful to MPS [Minneapolis Public Schools] stakeholders."

The move by the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT) comes after about a dozen full negotiating sessions that began in June on a new two-year contract between the district and the union.

MFT President Lynn Nordgren said: "We have had a lot of great discussions about many issues, and the atmosphere has been positive, but we are not making much progress. We believe a mediator will help us get more focused so we can come to some decisions together."

The move comes more than four months earlier into negotiations than it did in the last round of bargaining in 2011-12, when teachers didn't activate a request for a mediator until mid-February 2012.

The request effectively closes the talks to the public because Josh Tilsen, director of the state Bureau of Mediation Services, has a policy of closing mediated sessions; he has said he feels more progress is made when the possibility of the two sides posturing for the press and public is precluded.

"I strongly disagree with MFT's decision to shut the public out of these talks," Johnson said. She said the district will provide "timely, complete and accurate" information about the substance and implications of the talks.

Johnson said she was frustrated that most of the previous negotiating sessions focused on issues outside the contract, and only in the last three meetings focused on what she called key issues. The district proposal focused on staffing flexibility, teacher quality, strengthening low-performing schools and more learning time for teachers and students.

The union has emphasized such topics as class sizes, childhood development, school leadership, wraparound social services, planning time and the benefits of play time.

In filing the mediation request in 2012, Nordgren said she was tired of being sniped at by outside observers who argued that the district isn't aggressive enough in contract demands. She also said that open talks make it difficult for the union to control the flow of information to its members.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 • Twitter: @brandtstrib