A vote by the Republican House on a bill to change layoff procedures for Minnesota teachers was called off Thursday after the Dayton administration issued a report saying the move would cost taxpayers $895,000 over the next two years.

The report by Minnesota Management and Budget said the bill would require more staff to review out-of-state licensure applications and the creation and maintenance of “online information systems” to implement the bill’s license procedures. School districts also could face “increased litigation exposure,” the report said, should teachers challenge their evaluations.

The report came just hours after Education Minnesota, the state’s largest teachers union, urged legislators not to vote before they knew the cost of the proposed measure, calling the effort reckless.

House Ways and Means Chairman Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, who had previously reviewed the bill, expressed skepticism about the cost estimate from the state budget office.

“Unfortunately, it was inconvenient to suddenly get this fiscal note a couple of hours before the bill was supposed to be on the floor,” Knoblach said. “I’m disappointed in the administration that they didn’t get it in earlier than that … but we’re trying to be fair and don’t want to be criticized for somehow breaking the rules.”

The legislation, one of the top priorities for House Republicans this session, would end seniority as the primary factor in determining teacher layoffs. Education Minnesota has fought against such proposals for years.

Under the GOP plan, school districts and the union would have to negotiate layoff procedures that also consider a teacher’s effectiveness. The bill also would make it easier to license out-of-state teachers.

Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday that about a third of the state’s school districts have negotiated contracts that allow them to use teacher evaluations and student performance in layoff decisions. “I think we should look at the example that a third of the school districts ... have negotiated, seniority remains part of the consideration, but it’s not the only consideration,” the DFL governor said.

A recent Star Tribune analysis of locally negotiated contracts showed that while those districts include other factors, all of them use seniority as the primary consideration in determining layoffs. If two teachers have equal seniority, those districts will use other factors ranging from extracurricular experience to college grade-point averages to Social Security numbers or even a coin flip to break a tie.

Asked for the source of the governor’s information, Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said in an e-mail that Education Minnesota kept track of union contracts because it negotiated them. Swenson later added that he had checked with Dayton and that the governor had gotten his information from Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.

Charlene Briner, chief of staff at the Minnesota Department of Education, said the department does not retain or analyze locally negotiated contracts because it is not a party to them. She said the department has cited an analysis of local plans by Education Minnesota that said 40 percent of districts include factors other than seniority.

Aim is effectiveness

House Republicans have said that ending the so-called “last-in, first-out” seniority system is vital to providing students with effective teachers.

Education Minnesota and DFL leaders say the bill will make it easier to get rid of higher-paid teachers and to lower standards by making it easier for teachers who relocate to Minnesota to earn a teaching license. Union officials say the seniority protections ensure that the most experienced teachers remain in the classroom and provide administrators with a stable framework when making staff cuts.

Dayton said Thursday that eliminating seniority during layoff considerations is “too extreme.” But he left open the possibility that he would support using a newly implemented teacher evaluation process in other ways, as the bill proposes.

“We’ll see what happens with these various proposals going out, but we have a teacher evaluation system and now a principal evaluation system which the Republican majorities in the Legislature passed in 2011,” Dayton said. “We really have the basis for a more objective evaluation and that will lead to some other ways that we can apply these principles.”

Knoblach said that if there is a cost associated with the bill, legislators would allocate the money for it. His committee will take up the measure Monday and aim to get it back to the House floor for a vote by Thursday.

A KSTP/Survey USA poll released Thursday found that 80 percent of Minnesotans surveyed believe teacher layoffs should be conducted based on performance. Eleven percent of those polled said layoffs should be based on seniority. The poll of 525 voters had a margin of error of 3.5 percent and was conducted Feb. 20 through Feb. 24.

In recent committee hearings, Education Minnesota attorneys warned legislators that tying the 2011 teacher-evaluation law to layoff decisions would undermine the law and pit teachers against one another, since peer reviews are a component of the law.

“Reasonable people can disagree with the approach to teacher layoffs and licensing in [the bill] — and we do — but it’s just reckless to rush a vote before the cost estimates are done,” Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said in a statement Thursday morning. “The people pushing for an irresponsible vote either don’t care about the costs or don’t want the public to know them.”

While the bill is expected to pass the Republican-led House, its prospects in the DFL-led Senate are more difficult.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook, a former union negotiator, opposes legislation to change the seniority law. He believes the issue should be decided by school districts and unions.

“I’ve never supported it. I still don’t support it,” he said. “I’m very, very, very much not interested in getting in the middle of things that should be collectively bargained. I mean, I have just huge respect for that process, of labor and management hammering out a deal at the table and signing off on a contract. It just seems like it’s an issue of collective bargaining to me.”

 

Staff writers Abby Simons and Patrick Condon contributed to this report.