Last In, First Out education bill passes Minnesota Senate

Wolf authors teacher layoff bill

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

A so-called Last In, First Out education bill could soon be dropped on the desk of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

The Senate by 36 to 26 vote, with Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, joining with Republicans, passed the legislation Monday, Feb. 27, authored by Sen Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, that would place teacher effectiveness over seniority in terms of school boards deciding which teachers would stay and go during teacher layoffs.

“There is definite teacher support (for the legislation),” Wolf said prior to the Senate floor session.

Indeed, the only opposition to the bill, Wolf said on the Senate floor, is coming from the teachers’ union, Education Minnesota.

Wolf and other supporters argue that promising young teachers are often the fall-guys during layoffs, pushed out by teachers who have more seniority but who are not necessary better teachers.

Seniority, Wolf said, does not automatically translate to experience. A more experienced teacher, depending on when they signed their contract with a school district, could also be laid off for a less experienced, less robust teacher.

It depends who signed first on the dotted line, she said.

“This is not an anti-teacher measure,” said Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, speaking prior to the floor session. There’s no reason for good teachers to fear this legislation, she said.

“They have nothing to worry about,” she said.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, said the legislation focuses on the child and “what is the best way to get the best quaiified teacher in front of the child.” He said, “That has got to be our focus in education.”

While he said seniority is a component of a great teacher, by itself, seniority “should not be the only factor.”

The legislation would go into effect beginning in the 2015-16 school year, after a task force on teacher evaluation submits recommendations, Wolf said.

School districts and their teachers could implement their own plan quicker if they wish, Wolf said.

The Senate version of the LIFO legislation applies to probationary teachers — a Bonoff amendment — while the House bill, recently passed, does not.

But the Senate legislation was roundly criticized during Senate floor debate by Democratic senators.

“This is really premature,” said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, former senate education committee chairman. Stumpf styled the task of forming a fair, comprehensive teacher evaluation model one of the most difficult tasks ever given educators in Minnesota.

Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, questioned if a rational teacher evaluation model could be found.

“This is another attack on collective bargaining rights,” Goodwin said of the bill.

Other Democrats argued that the legislation was an invitation for school district officials to get rid of highly paid teachers in favor of lowered paid ones.

“You’ve gotten a little cynical,” Olson said to Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who made the argument.

But Tomassoni countered by saying he’s learned in life that cynical people are often correct.

Other Democrats said the bill showed poor priorities, that the focus should not be on how to handle teacher layoffs but on providing enough school funding to prevent layoffs.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, urged the Republicans to try a different tack. “That kind of doesn’t smell that it might be something else,” he said, suggesting the real intentions behind the bill are left unspoken.

Sen. Kenneth Kelash, DFL-Minneapolis, questioned why a young person, given the low starting wage, would even want to enter the teaching profession. Kelash viewed the legislation as chipping away at one of the things that might encourage a young person to enter the field, the idea that if they persist eventually they could gain tenure.

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher in a statement voiced criticisms heard on the Senate floor.

“Instead of tackling the serious issues facing our schools, these (House and Senate) bills will make it easier for school administrators to shed experienced teachers for their less-expensive colleagues,” Dooher said. “These bills also confuse the layoff process with teacher effectiveness. Make no mistake, if there’s a problem with a teacher there’s no reason for a principal to wait until a budget crisis to act.”

Gazelka said he didn’t feel this was an issue. “This is going to look at what best fits. I just don’t see school administrators in our area operating that way. They want the best teacher in front of the kids and I think this gives them opportunity to do that.”

Wolf, an educator for 26 years, said the legislation was timely.

“This is a good bill,” she said, adding it was long overdue.

Olson viewed the legislation as an encouragement to school district and teacher bargaining units to begin discussions on teacher effectiveness issues.

Olson, who is not seeking re-election, expressed frustration over the perceived attitude of many lawmakers that the education policy status quo plus additional school funding is all that’s needed.

“I’m tired of hearing this,” she said. “It will sink the ship.”

A Dayton spokeswoman said the governor will consider the legislation.

Olson said they’re hopeful Dayton will sign the bill.