Rookie teachers feel the brunt of cuts

/ 9 June 2012 / jennifer

Steve Brandt, Star Tribune, June 9, 2012 –

Teachers in their first three years are still losing their jobs before those with tenure. Dayton vetoed bill that would have curbed seniority rights.

Most of next year’s pink slips once again are going to rookie teachers.

None of the metro area’s six biggest school districts is laying off a tenured teacher. But the number of probationary teachers in their first three years who are being told they may not be back is holding steady or even up slightly except for Minneapolis and St. Paul.

To be sure, not all probationary teachers get notices that their contracts won’t be renewed. And not all who do will be let go. But the situation highlights what was one of the most divisive issues at the Legislature this year, the role of seniority in teacher layoffs.

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a Republican-backed bill that would have ended the practice of laying off the most junior teachers first. Instead, all teachers, tenured or probationary, would have been laid off on the basis of their seniority within their licensing and the effectiveness rating on previously mandated teacher evaluations.

One advocate assailed the “last-hired first-fired” status quo. “In times of critical staffing decisions, including layoffs, Minnesota should place teacher performance as the primary factor — not solely the number of years on the job,” said Vallay Varro, executive director of MinnCAN, a leading voice for seniority reforms.

Tom Dooher, head of the statewide teacher union, said its local units already have been willing to depart from seniority in tenured layoffs for special needs such as immersion programs or teaching in alternative schools.

With the school year coming to an end, the Star Tribune surveyed the six largest districts, comprising 176,527 of the state’s students, to assess teacher layoffs. Most are hitting suburban school districts.

In the state’s largest district, Anoka-Hennepin, 177 probationary teachers got termination notices this year. That’s about even with last year’s 175, which amounted to nearly two-thirds of the district’s probationary teachers. But later rehiring cut the loss to 139 teachers, or half of that group.

Tenured teachers again were spared, as most were even during the recent years of severe budget cutting. Spokeswoman Mary Olson said she can’t recall more than a handful of tenured teachers being laid off in any of the 40 years she’s been associated with the district.

In the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, 113 probationary teachers got terminated this spring, compared to 93 a year ago. No tenured teachers were laid off, compared to 27 a year ago.

The Osseo area district told 42 probationary teachers they’re without jobs, up from 34 last year. In the South Washington County district, 81 probationary reachers were given such notices, almost even with 83 a year earlier.

Enrollment holds steady

Decisions on how many teachers to cut are driven largely by enrollments and state school aid. Plunging enrollments mean fewer schools and fewer classrooms. In 2005, when Minneapolis closed 10 schools, the district let go 546 tenured and probationary teachers; 376 followed a year later. Tenured teachers retain recall rights to a job they’re licensed for, but probationary teachers without tenure only stand a chance of being rehired if all laid-off teachers in their licensure are rehired.

Enrollment has stabilized recently, and so far this spring Minneapolis has let go only 29 probationary teachers, and only three of them for budget reasons. That’s down from a total of 95 a year ago, when 52 were for budget reasons. The proposed budget adds 87 new teachers.

St. Paul cut 20 probationary teachers, but only one for budget reasons. That’s down from 57 a year ago, when 35 were for budget cuts.

Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metro School Districts, said enrollments generally have been stable in the metro area, with a stagnant housing market limiting growth in previously fast-growing areas. The state sent more money to schools, raising the general aid by $50 per student, and adding some literacy money. But that’s offset by higher borrowing costs to get many districts through a state-aid payment delay and state-mandated increases in pension contributions.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438