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Tenure gone under Minnesota House, Senate bills

The Minnesota House and Senate passed similar education budget bills this week, each including provisions that would eliminate tenure for schoolteachers.

Under both plans, teacher pay and jobs would depend on the achievement of their students. Teachers traditionally are paid based on their years of service, something Republicans who control the House and Senate strongly oppose.

For the next two years, both education bills would spend about the same $14 billion as in the current budget. The entire state budget is about $34 billion.

For Red Wing School District, the elimination of tenure probably wouldn't make too much of a difference, Supt. Stan Slessor said.

"The vast, vast, vast majority of our teachers is skilled and passionate," he said.

Slessor agreed "concepts of tenure have to be looked at." Improving teacher evaluation is part of the school's five-year strategic plan and will be discussed at a special School Board workshop Monday.

Slessor said tenure has both pros and cons.

"It's an assent to teachers who have done their jobs well and protects them from people who are not being professional when they evaluate (them)."

@Sub heads:The House bill

@Normal1: The House passed its bill 68-59 early Wednesday morning. Overall, classroom funding would increase slightly, but the state Education Department would be trimmed.

Among the provisions is one to tie some state funding to schools' marks on a new grading system. Modeled after a Florida program, it would give schools getting the best grades funding bonuses.

"A-F school grading and teacher evaluation changes are big steps forward," House Education Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said. "We owe it to kids to do this heavy lifting so we're providing the best world-class education possible."

In addition to eliminating tenure, teacher pay would be determined by student achievement and locally-determined factors.

The teacher union Education Minnesota has argued against provisions such as one that forbids teachers from striking. Republicans say that would protect communities "from divisive strikes."

Garofalo, whose district includes northwestern Goodhue County, said it is time to reform education policy and financing.

"If we continue to rest on our laurels, we'll get leap-frogged by other states more willing to take on reform challenges," he said.

@Sub heads:The Senate bill

@Normal1: Senators passed their bill 36-25 on a party-line vote Thursday.

Similar to the House bill, it would increase general education funding while cutting state Education Department spending by 15 percent. However, Democrats say the bill also cuts about $35 million from other areas of education.

Among the provisions is one to divert some education funding to help children read by third grade. But critics do not like how the plan takes money from other needs.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said that the education budget bill's aim is to "put a laser focus on reading."

In addition, the bill freezes school salaries for the next two years - including not allowing cost-of-living raises - and forbids teachers from striking over pay.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said she opposes the pay and union limitations, comparing them to similar Wisconsin actions. She called the bill "an assault on the collective bargain process."

"This bill really hammers teachers," added Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.

The bill also includes provisions to remove requirements that a "safe schools levy" be used for counselors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and alcohol and chemical dependency counselors.

@Sub heads:Opposition from Dayton

@Normal1: Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said in a letter to legislative leaders last week he opposes policy items tucked in massive budget bills. The education bills contain many of those policy measures.

He said he would veto bills that contain policy provisions he opposes. Such items should "be presented to me as separate legislation," Dayton wrote to legislative leaders.

House and Senate negotiators will work out differences between their bills and prepare to send a compromise bill to Dayton.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.