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House OKs laying off teachers based on performance

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ST. PAUL -- School officials could lay off teachers based on their effectiveness rather than just how long they have taught under a bill Minnesota representatives approved 68-61 Thursday.

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"We have an urgency," Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said. "We have students waiting for an answer to why they are not learning at the level where they should."

The bill would not begin the new policy until 2016. Then, school boards would use teachers' effectiveness and what subjects they teach as part of the decision about whether to lay off or demote teachers. Sonority also would be considered, but it would not be the only criteria as it is now.

Supporters of the bill say teachers who lose their jobs often are better qualified than those with long tenure.

The bill was amended to forbid schools from laying off teachers based on how much they earn.

A similar bill is in the Senate.

Bill sponsor Rep. Branden Peterson, R-Andover, said that he has a meeting scheduled next week with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to work on the bill when it reaches a House-Senate conference committee.

Peterson summarized the bill, saying it "seeks to keep the most effective teachers in the classroom."

Democratic-Farmer-Laborite legislators complained that Peterson ignored their requests to work on the bill and he hurried it to a vote.

"This is complicated," Rep. Kory Kath, DFL-Owatonna, said. "We are not in a hurry to get it done today."

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill deals with the wrong issue: Instead of talking about teacher performance, the debate should be about improving school funding.

Even Democrats debating the bill said changes are needed in the seniority-based system.

The state teachers' union, Education Minnesota, was not happy with the vote.

President Tom Dooher defended the current process, which he said allows local school boards and teachers to develop their own local processes. If there is no locally written process, he said, seniority is used.

"It's disappointing the House has passed this bill, which does nothing to address the real challenges facing our schools," Dooher said. "But it will make it easier for districts to shed seasoned teachers for their less-experienced, less-expensive colleagues. This is not about student learning, it's about budget cutting."

The union leader said the Minnesota bill comes out of a national Republican playbook.

Dooher said he hoped Gov. Mark Dayton would veto the bill passed the House and Senate.

In his Wednesday night State of the State speech, Dayton did not specially mention the bill, but he voiced support for teachers: "I have a novel idea. Let's develop any education initiatives this year in cooperation with teachers, rather than in conflict with them. The best education for all Minnesota students should not be a political ploy; and I will not support anything which is."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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