Union opposes seniority bill

Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher said Monday that the Minnesota Senate had missed an opportunity for serious education reform by passing a bill that changes how school districts manage layoffs.

Under current law, school districts and teachers can negotiate their own processes for handling layoffs. A recent review of all the educators’ contracts in the state by Education Minnesota found that more than 40 percent of districts have negotiated systems that go beyond straight seniority. Because they tend to be larger districts, 59 percent of the teachers in the state now work under the negotiated agreements and they teach 60 percent of the state’s students.

In the absence of a negotiated layoff process, districts use the seniority-based system in law. The House bill, passed Feb. 16, and its Senate counterpart would change the default structure to a performance-based framework in which many key details would be unilaterally decided by school boards.

Dooher said the bills gave lawmakers a chance to talk about the challenges facing education, without actually doing anything about them. “These bills won’t stop the slide in state support for our schools or repay the billions of dollars the Legislature has borrowed from K–12 education with no plans to repay it,” he said. “It won’t shrink class sizes and any claim that teacher layoffs are the right tool for fixing the achievement gap is simply absurd.

“Instead of tackling the serious issues facing our schools, these 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.”

Dooher called on Gov. Mark Dayton to use his veto pen to send a message to the Legislature that there’s still time for a debate about substantial education policy this session.