Seniority-based teacher layoffs: Dayton won’t sign GOP bill

/ 29 March 2012 / jennifer

Megan Boldt, Pioneer Press, March 29, 2012 –

Republican legislators who want to end seniority-based teacher layoffs will push forward with their proposal, even though a last-ditch effort to get DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on board failed.

The governor met privately with the bill sponsors Thursday morning, March 29, and reiterated his concern that the bill is tied to a new teacher-evaluation system that won’t be developed until 2014. Dayton said he has no intention of signing the bill this session.

Dayton said he shares the bill supporters’ goal of putting the best teachers in the classroom. But the bill is premature and among a raft of bills being pushed by Republican lawmakers that are “anti-public education and anti-teacher.” And that has teachers demoralized, he said.

“They feel like they’re doing their best, but they get little credit or recognition,” Dayton said.

The measure, which would end the practice of laying off teachers based on seniority rather than performance, has passed the Republican-led House and Senate. A conference committee that was expected to seek a compromise in the bills Thursday afternoon was canceled.

Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, said a broad coalition of parents, administrators and school board members support getting rid of “last in, first out,” so they will send it to Dayton regardless of his promise to veto it.

“If 80 percent of Minnesotans want this and he wants to say no, that’s his prerogative,” said Wolf, referencing a recent poll on the issue.

Rep. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, said the only group that has opposed the bill is the statewide teachers union Education Minnesota. And that’s why Dayton won’t sign it, Petersen said, not because of the teacher-evaluation system.

“It’s honestly an excuse to veto the bill because that’s what his allies want him to do. I don’t know how you can build a broader coalition of support than we did,” Petersen said. “If he thinks the union isn’t going to oppose this bill in four years after the teacher-evaluation system is in place, he’s kidding himself.”

Dayton also indicated Thursday that he might not sign a Republican-backed bill to start paying back the $2.4 billion school shift. It would dip into reserves to repay about $430 million in delayed payments previously used to balance the state budget.

The governor’s finance guru, Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter, has said using reserves right now is a bad idea, in that it would put the state on unstable financial footing and potentially jeopardize its credit rating.

The Republican partial payback of the shift would cut the state’s reserves from $657 million to about $227 million. An additional $350 million in cash-flow accounts leaves the state with about $577 million on hand.

Dayton said Thursday that he prefers his fellow Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers’ plan to close corporate tax loopholes to start paying back what is owed. It would get rid of the tax preference that allows corporations to shelter earnings offshore.

“They’d rather protect the rich and powerful than pay back schools in a fiscally responsible manner,” Dayton said of Republican legislators.

Megan Boldt can be reached at 651-228-5495. Follow her at