Our View: Bill limiting seniority deserves OK

/ 9 April 2012 / jennifer

St. Cloud Times Editorial, April 9, 2012 –

4 years is enough time to plan for evaluations

What a difference a year makes, not to mention five of them.

With that in mind, it’s time for Gov. Mark Dayton to sign legislation that — not until the 2016-17 school year — will end the legacy practice of retaining most teachers based on seniority only.

Instead, as described in a House-Senate conference committee report issued last week, districts would base retention decisions on teacher performance, proper licenses and seniority. Broadly speaking, this three-pronged approach is much better than the legacy practice of “last in, first out.”

However, news reports last week quoted the DFL governor as saying he likely would veto this bill because the system for evaluating teacher performance was still evolving.

While the Times Editorial Board shared a similar concern earlier this session, that was rooted in original proposals that implemented the change by the 2013-14 school year.

Now, though, this conference committee report implements changes in 2016-17. That’s four school years away. Couple that with the fact that creating an evaluation process already has been percolating for a year and that time frame — five years — should be more than enough to develop and implement performance criteria.

Thus this board urges Dayton to sign the measure.

Minnesota taxpayers invest too much money into public education, and today’s students have too much riding on that investment to let seniority be the dominant factor in teacher retention. Similarly, such an evaluation system should be used for principals and district administrators.

While stepping away from “last in, first out” is important, it must be stressed that passing legislation alone is not the final step.

The plan will take strong commitments from school board members, superintendents and district administrators. They must be willing to apply high standards, identify substandard teachers, give them opportunities to improve and make the decisions necessary to put the best teachers in classrooms.

That’s a point worth making in the wake of a recent Star Tribune report that showed 97 percent to 99 percent of teachers evaluated in various performance-based pilot projects receive passing marks.

Finally, legislators and the governor must provide the resources necessary to make this legislation work. That means addressing the fact that evaluations add work. It also means explaining how the state will fund bonuses of up to 20 percent for teachers getting the highest marks possible.

Again, “last in, first out” is a legacy practice in need of change. But the goal here isn’t about dumping seniority; it’s about putting the best teachers in front of students.