Teacher layoff practices debated


When Minnesota school districts are forced to cut teachers, the most recently hired ones are the first to go.

This policy was the center of a hotly contested bill in the House Education Reform Committee. Legislators heard passionate testimony from educators, administrators and parents, but took no action. The discussion is expected to continue Feb. 9.

Sponsored by Rep. Branden Petersen (R-Andover), HF1870 would authorize districts to base any unrequested leave of absence, discharge or demotion on performance evaluations instead of only seniority. It has no Senate companion.

Supporters argued the bill would raise the overall caliber of teachers in the state. They claimed that new teachers are unfairly targeted for layoffs, even though they are sometimes more effective than those with more experience.

Jennifer Flood, a parent within the St. Paul school district, said that her family moved to the area so her children could have access to a good education, which she felt the district provided. However, now she sees some of her favorite teachers at risk for layoffs because they are new. She said that, in terms of her move to the district, the current practice “makes me question if I made the wrong decision.”

Opponents urged the committee to consider the experience that senior teachers offer. They said that when measuring a teacher’s effectiveness, performance evaluations are no substitute for years at the front of a classroom.

Louise Sundin, president emeritus of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, offered a simple example of the value of experience: “When I was having a hip replaced not too long ago, I did not seek out Doogie Howser.”

Educators who oppose the bill asked that legislators examine efforts to improve layoff practices already underway on the local level. They expressed concern that the bill would undo work they had already done and asked for time to continue to develop processes within their districts.