GOP lawmakers square off with Dayton over education bills

/ 29 March 2012 / jennifer

Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio, March 29, 2012 –

St. Paul, Minn. — Two education-related bills by House and Senate Republicans headed toward DFL Gov. Mark Dayton appear to be facing certain vetoes.

Dayton firmly opposes a GOP measure to change teacher tenure rules, as well as a measure that uses money from the state budget reserve to start paying back delayed school funds.

There was a last ditch effort to convince a reluctant governor to warm up to the bill aimed at ending the practice of “last in, first out” in teacher layoff decisions. But Rep. Branden Peterson, R-Andover, and Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, emerged from Dayton’s office without getting the movement they were hoping for. Peterson said the private meeting did not go well.

“The governor is committed to vetoing the bill,” Peterson said.

If passed, the measure would allow public school administrators to consider job performance and not just years of service when deciding which teachers to lay off. Peterson said the conference committee he co-chairs with Wolf will now move forward to quickly wrap up negotiations on the bill, and send it on for final floor votes.

“We have the political will to do the right thing and make sure that we retain the most highly effective teachers in the classroom. And we can start to move Minnesota in a direction that focuses on student achievement rather than archaic union work rules,” Peterson said. “The governor seems to disagree with just about… well, the governor disagrees with 80 percent of Minnesotans and many members of his own constituency group in Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

Dayton said he shares the goal of making sure the best educators are in Minnesota schools. But he is convinced that a new statewide teacher evaluation system that lawmakers passed last year will provide the same kind of changes that bill supporters are looking for, once that system takes shape. Dayton also said he is troubled by a “raft of bills” this session that he views as anti-public education, anti-teachers and anti-union.

“The overall context in which this bill is just part is very damaging to public education in Minnesota. There are things that can be improved, and we took some major steps last year to do that, and we’ll take more in the future,” Dayton said. “But it needs to be put in its proper perspective.”

Dayton also appears ready to reject a GOP-backed bill to begin repaying some of the $2.4 billion that the state owes to Minnesota schools. School districts would get about $430 million in aid payments that lawmakers delayed as part of recent state budget fixes. But the partial payback relies on budget reserves, and Dayton contends it would be an irresponsible move at a time when the state is trying to re-establish its financial stability.

“It would make a virtual certainty of having to borrow money next fall to make all of the state’s obligations — which means you’re shifting the debt from the school districts to the state, and the people that have to pay that off are ultimately the same people, the people of Minnesota,” Dayton said.

House and Senate negotiators agreed on the school payback bill Wednesday night after removing extra policy language. They claim the bill is now easier for the governor to support. Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, a co-chair of the conference committee that worked on the bill, said she thinks directing some one-time money back to schools, even if it comes from reserves, is the right thing to do.

“This was one way of sending a message that we do want to keep the schools whole. There’s a lot more out there that needs to be paid back,” Olson said. “But the schools really aren’t that interested in getting it back all at once, because it’s not ongoing money.”

After her own private meeting with the governor, Olson said she expects the bill to be vetoed.