MSBA at the Capitol — Teacher licensure debate moves to Senate committee

The Senate Education Committee heard two bills related to teacher licensure Thursday before a packed house of testifiers.

Both bills — Sen. Terri Bonoff’s SF 97 and Sen. Eric Pratt’s HF 2 (co-authored in the House by Rep. Jenifer Loon) — were laid over for future committee discussion and possible inclusion in the omnibus education policy bill.

Sen. Bonoff’s proposal calls for a number of modifications, specifically eliminating the “last in, first out” (LIFO) approach to laying off teachers. Under this bill, school boards can still use seniority as a factor for unrequested leave (ULA) — but it wouldn’t have to be the ONLY factor.

“This will help us get the best teachers in the classroom,” Bonoff said. “This will put the power back in the hands of the local districts and teachers, using their locally negotiated evaluation plans.”

MSBA’s Associate Director of Government Relations Denise Dittrich told the committee that this issue is very important to school board members.

“This proposal is not about getting rid of teachers that are not performing, but allows school boards to retain the best teachers,” Dittrich said, adding that “one way to minimize the impact of ULA would be for the state to adequately fund education.”

Dittrich said school board members need the flexibility to retain the best teachers for their schools and students. She recounted her own time as a school board member for Anoka-Hennepin (1998-2004) when she and her board colleagues had to eliminate a number of new teachers — based solely on seniority.

“The cuts we made back then didn’t respond to the staffing needs of the students and the schools,” she said. “School boards are charged with making these staffing decisions. Boards should not be limited to ONE criteria. This bill would allow boards to evaluate their staffing needs and would allow them to retain the right teachers.”

Minneapolis School Board Members Don Samuels testified in support of the bill.

Samuels cited an example of one of his district’s promising young teachers getting laid off due to LIFO, simply based on seniority. Two years later, that teacher was named Teacher of the Year — working for a different district. “We can’t keep these teachers in our district due to this (current) law,” he said.

Minnetonka Assistant Superintendent Tim Alexander also testified, stating that this bill would support recognizing teacher effectiveness. “We have the responsibility to make decisions on the best interests of our children,” he said. “This bill can create teacher effectiveness as a factor when making these (layoff) decisions. Seniority should not be the ONLY factor considered.”

Sen. Eric Pratt introduced HF 2, claiming the bill would remove barriers and allow boards to keep their best teachers in the classroom. “This is not about laying off teachers, it’s about retaining the best teachers if furloughs are needed,” Sen. Pratt said.

Pratt, a member of the Prior Lake-Savage Area School Board from 2000 to 2012, added: “Five members (of this committee) have been school board members. I wish I could have had something like this when I was making tough decisions as a school board member.”

Along with the ULA/LIFO modification, Sen. Pratt’s bill also includes provisions that would remove barriers for teacher licensure for out-of-state candidates.

The bill received additional support from other school district officials, the Minnesota Association of School Administrators (MASA), the Association of Metropolitan School Districts (AMSD), the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, the African American Leadership Forum, the Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now (MinnCAN) and a number of parents.

“This is not a Republican-Democrat issue,” Pratt said. “This is a common sense issue.”

The committee also heard a proposal (SF 1554) from Sen. Susan Kent that would prohibit student placement in classrooms with certain teachers who are participating in certain improvement programs — who have not had evaluations.

MSBA’s Denise Dittrich didn’t oppose the bill in testimony, but said its implementation could be a “logistical quagmire.”

SF 1554 was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus bill.

About mnmsba

The Minnesota School Boards Association, a leading advocate for public education, supports, promotes and strengthens the work of public school boards.
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