Out with ‘last in, first out’

Bill passes state House requiring school districts to negotiate layoff plans

By Sean Miner
Sun Current Newspapers

Working in her capacity as chair of the House Education Finance Committee, Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) authored a bill regarding school layoff procedures, which passed the House on March 16.

In essence, the bill requires all school districts to have a locally negotiated plan for reducing staff, should budgeting constraints require layoffs. Currently, districts can have such plans, but if they choose not to negotiate them, they are required to fall back on a state statute that mandates use of a seniority-based, “last in, first out” principle.

Loon explained that the bill, which passed the House by a vote of 71-59, would encourage school districts to consider teacher performance, licensure and other factors — and give teacher’s unions a say in the process.

“I do think that seniority is an important factor,” said Loon. “Not only that, but performance, and what kind of training they have. Instead of prescribing that, I just said, ‘Come up with a plan.’”

Loon acknowledged that school districts could still negotiate layoff plans that rely on seniority. A previous version of her bill went further to prescribe what criteria should be used, and explained her thinking process behind paring back the legislation.

“It was really just listening to concerns from people who opposed my legislation,” said Loon.

In order for the measure to become law, a companion bill in the Minnesota Senate would need to pass. Loon said that the bill had been introduced, but couldn’t comment on when she thought it might come to a vote, or its chances.

“I have asked the governor about it, not this year but in previous years, and he said, ‘Not this year — maybe we can talk about this next year,’” said Loon. “Now, it’s next year, and I hope we do talk about it.”

A release from Loon’s office noted that Minnesota “is currently one of only six states where seniority is the sole factor in teacher retention decisions.”

Omnibus bill preview

Loon also noted that she planned to release her omnibus education bill within days. Funding plans for the state’s education program will be included, as well as a handful of reforms.
Some, she said, will be aimed at developing better oversight for early childhood education initiatives in the state.

“All the hundreds of millions of dollars that we’re expending — are we making good use of those resources?” asked Loon. “Could we be helping our kids better with that investment?”

Coming, too, may be tweaks to Post-Secondary Enrollment Option programs, which Loon said some schools had been discouraging students from enrolling in. Loosely, she said that the changes would be aimed at clarifying what options are available to students and families, and generally ensuring access.

Loon said the bill would also aim to address teacher shortages, some of which are concentrated in a geographical area, and others of which are centered around areas of licensure. Among the goals with relation to teachers, she said, were addressing shortages, increasing diversity and exploring alternative paths for teachers to enter the field.

Contact Sean Miner at [email protected]