Education advocates duel over teacher layoff bills

Published 10:24 am Friday, March 13, 2015

ST. PAUL — Education advocates dueled Thursday as a Minnesota Senate committee took its first look at a move to rework the teacher layoff system so longevity matters less. The bill sped through the Republican House but faces opposition in the DFL-led Senate.

Measures to require evaluations play a role when school boards cut jobs brought more than two hours of testimony to the Senate Committee on Education. The committee chose not to vote on the bills Thursday, signaling likely future debate.

“This is not about getting rid of teachers. This is just about getting the best teachers in front of our students,” said Sen. Terri Bonoff, a Minnetonka Democrat. Most of her caucus has stood with the state teachers union, which opposes the measure it says will lead to costly lawsuits and contract renegotiations.

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Bonoff’s bill came alongside one from House Republicans, which includes the layoff language and would also ease the licensing process for out-of-state teachers. The GOP-led chamber passed that measure last week largely along party lines.

Parts of the House GOP bill, like making it easier to revoke the licenses of teachers convicted of sex crimes, have bipartisan support. Democrats have raised the most concern over the layoff language.

Minnesota school districts and teachers can negotiate their own layoff procedures. But most of them use the state default, which places a heavy emphasis on seniority.

The Legislature in 2011 voted to require a teacher evaluation system in every public school district by the 2014-2015 school year. Several have said using that system as a factor in layoffs will poison collaboration and mentorship among teachers, who will no longer have any incentive to help one another.

Education Minnesota, the teachers union, brought a member of a global think tank and consulting group to walk legislators through the process of evaluation.

Many large organizations appraise their employees, said Dr. Josh Davis, director of research for the NeuroLeadership Institute.

“But when we store a label somewhere, and people know that label is being used to determine their livelihood, then we’ve just erased all the potential to have these growth conversations,” Davis said.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain said later in the hearing that competition and collaboration can produce better results in tandem. “It’s not something to be scared of,” the Lino Lakes Republican said.

Derek Olson, a former Minnesota Teacher of The Year, disagreed. Competition between groups works in the private sector when companies fight to make the best product, he said, but added: “Within my school, the competition shouldn’t be between me and the teacher down the hall.”