CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote to bill supporter Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, that was actually came from one of the Republicans who spoke after her in the debate. I apologize for the error.
From now on, state lawmakers want teacher layoffs to be based on merit, not how long a teacher has been on the job.
The bill passed the state Senate Monday on an almost party-line vote of 36-26. It aims to create a new system for teacher layoffs that puts more weight on job performance evaluations than on tenure. Supporters say it’s a way to keep good teachers regardless of how long they’ve been at the job, rather than the old standard of last hired, first fired.
“In the event of a layoff, teachers would be laid off based on their effectiveness,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park – a middle school teacher herself. Right now, she said, a teacher could have decades of seniority and lose it all if they transfer to a new school – and end up at the front of the line for layoffs. “Seniority does not mean experience….Experience does not necessarily mean effectiveness.”
The legislation, which passed the House earlier this month, brought cries of protest from teachers and teacher unions. Opponents see it as an attack on the teacher unions and a blow to what little job security teachers now enjoy.
“Basically, it guts tenure,” said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who issued a grim warning that districts would likely follow the pattern of large corporations that lay off their most experienced, and highest-paid, employees and bring in young, inexperienced and underpaid hires instead. “Basically (under this system) you can lay off a teacher with seniority just because you don’t like them.”
DFL Sen. Terri Bonoff of Minnetonka, who crossed party lines to support the bill, said the proposed evaluation system is no more an attack on the union than the current tenure-based system.
Hiring and firing based on tenure, Wolf said, is unfair to students and good teachers. Despite teacher and union protests, she said “I have from any students who oppose this bill, I have not heard from any parents who oppose this bill. I have only heard from (the teacher union) Education Minnesota.”
The Senate version of the teacher tenure legislation includes a provision that prohibits school districts from taking teacher salary into account during layoff decisions. The Senate bill also allows probationary teachers to be evaluated and possibly spared from a round of layoffs.
Some Senators questioned why the legislature is pushing legislation that relies on a teacher evaluation system that doesn’t even exist yet. Right now, an education commission is working on a statewide teacher evaluation system that would go into effect for the 2016-17 school year – the same year the legislation would go into effect.
“This is very premature,” said Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, who wondered whether the state would ever be able to come up with a single evaluation system that could weigh both math teachers and band teachers, urban classrooms with 40 students and rural classrooms with only a handful.
For some teachers who are forced to spend the entire year preparing their students for standardized tests, she said, “every single minute of the curriculum is planned for them. They’re having to teach for the test – I don’t know where the creativity is going to come from that would differentiate one from the other.”
The House version of the bill, which passed earlier this month, did not include the protections for probationary teachers. A spokeswoman for Gov. Mark Dayton said he is still studying the Senate bill and plans to meet with lawmakers to discuss the issue.