Teacher layoff bill clears committee hurdle

/ 22 February 2012 / jennifer

Kim McGuire, Star Tribune, February 22, 2012 –

The Senate Education Committee approved a controversial plan on Tuesday that seeks to get rid of the state’s seniority-based system for laying off teachers.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, would establish a new system for guiding teacher layoffs that also would factor in evaluations and licensures.

The proposal comes at a time when a growing number of Minnesota schools are shedding teachers to accommodate dwindling budgets and when the state’s achievement gap shows no obvious signs of shrinking.

The plan’s supporters say that the current system sometimes forces good teachers out of their jobs while students suffer the consequences.

Opponents, however, argue that scrapping a seniority-based system would encourage districts to lay off older, more highly paid teachers. They also worry that without the seniority protection, layoff decisions would be left to administrators who might make decisions that play to favorites.

“I hate to say it, Senator Wolf, but I think this bill is an attack on teachers,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm. “I wish you would withdraw the bill and throw it in the garbage.”

Wolf, who is a teacher, disagreed, saying that legislation will help bring fairness to a system that doesn’t always work during layoffs.

“My bottom line is I want to make sure we’re putting the best teachers in front of students,” she said.

Performance-based standards

Minnesota is one of about a dozen states that rely on seniority alone in making layoff decisions. If the proposed legislation becomes law, the state would join about 18 others that have moved toward performance-based standards over the past two years.

Last week, legislators approved the House version of the legislation, which is sponsored by Rep. Branden Petersen, R-Andover.

A major difference between the two bills is how probationary teachers are handled. Now, they are the first to be laid off.

Under the Senate plan, those teachers might not always be the first to leave if they have received a good evaluation.

Wolf pointed out that probationary teachers aren’t always inexperienced. For instance, she said, when a teacher who has many years of classroom experience moves to a new district, they automatically slide to the bottom of the seniority scale and place themselves in layoff jeopardy.

“While it’s [the current system] certainly orderly, it’s not fair,” she said. “It’s not fair to teachers and it’s not fair to students.”

The bill now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

Kim McGuire • 612-673-4469