ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Senate passed a bill Monday that would let schools lay off teachers based on their performance in the classroom rather than by seniority alone.
The bill passed by a 36-26 vote would let schools make layoffs based on evaluations that consider how well a teacher's students perform. The state currently requires school districts to consider only teacher seniority in deciding layoffs, unless individual districts negotiate their own arrangements to consider other factors.
The bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, said the legislation would allow schools to keep the most effective teachers.
"More matters than just when you sign the contract," said Wolf, who teaches a range of grades at Pines School at the Anoka County Juvenile Center.
Several Democrats opposed the bill. They said a statewide teacher evaluation system now in the works needs more time to develop before layoff policies are changed. The new system would base about one-third of a teacher evaluation on student test results.
"This challenge that we gave the education community to come up with an evaluation system ... it's one of the most difficult challenges we've ever laid on them," Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said.
Wolf's bill would have new evaluations begin by the 2014-15 school year, with the new layoff policies starting for the 2016-17 school year.
Other Democrats were worried that the evaluations could be abused by administrators intent on laying off teachers because of personality or because they are higher-paid.
"Even if the bill says you can't (lay off) based on their salary, they'll figure out a way to make senior teachers `ineffective' and lay them off," said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.
Tom Dooher, president of Education Minnesota, a union of 70,000 public school educators, said there is already a process in place to evaluate teachers and get rid of ineffective ones.
"I think this bill is confusing layoffs with ineffectiveness," Dooher said. "We shouldn't have to wait for layoffs to get rid of ineffective teachers. If there are ineffective teachers, they are pathways to get rid of them. This bill is jumbling those two things together and not serving students by doing so."
According to Education Minnesota, 40 percent of Minnesota's school districts_ accounting for 60 percent of teachers – have negotiated local arrangements that are not based solely on seniority.
The House passed similar legislation earlier this month. The House version would allow for teachers still in a probationary period _usually the first three years – to be laid off first. But the Senate version would consider these teachers with all other teachers in weighted layoff decisions.
The two bills go to a conference committee to have differences worked out. Gov. Mark Dayton, a former teacher, has not said if he would sign or veto the bill.
Associated Press writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.