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Doug Mann LPN, LNC

Myths about teacher seniority & tenure rights

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Myths about teacher seniority & tenure rights 

The Minnesota Public Employees Labor Relations Act, the Minnesota Teacher Tenure Act, and collective bargaining agreements between the teachers union and the Minneapolis Board of Education have never given one teacher the right to "bump" a lower seniority teacher out of their job, except when the employment of the teacher being bumped is also being terminated because that teacher is near the bottom of the seniority list of teachers who are qualified to teach in an area that
is being cut.

Nor is seniority the sole criteria used to determine who gets laid off if there are more teachers on the payroll than needed by the district. At minimum, a low seniority middle school math teacher who is certified to teach middle school math classes may not be dislodged from their position and replaced by a higher-seniority teacher who isn't certified to teach middle school math.

The MN Supreme Court has upheld a ruling in Strand v. the Minneapolis School District that the last hired teacher should generally be the first fired, so long as following this principle is reasonable. Replacing a fully qualified teacher with a teacher lacking minimum qualifications for a particular teaching position is not a reasonable application of the last-hired, first fired principle.

The Minnesota Teacher Tenure Act requires the district administration to fire teachers for cause. The district may fire a teacher who is ineffective, if certain due process procedures are followed: There must be fair and objective standards for evaluating teacher performance; Prior to termination a teacher must receive a fair evaluation. Teachers on probationary status (their first three years of employment) have very limited appeal rights. Probationary teachers terminated at the end of the school year for less than fully satisfactory performance generally may not appeal their termination. Naturally, a probationary teacher who gets at least satisfactory ratings in all of their performance evaluations could challenge a firing for unsatisfactory performance in the courts, even though their is no provision for administrative relief in the teachers contract.

The district is not compelled by the Minnesota Public Employees Relations Act, the Teacher Tenure Act, or the teachers contract to send layoff notices to teachers that do NOT need to be laid off. In fact language in the Teacher Tenure Act clearly states that a school district may lay off as many teachers as necessary due to declining student enrollment, funding short falls, etc. However, what the Minneapolis School District goes way beyond that. For example, about two-thirds of the teachers laid off in 2005 accepted continuing employment with the district. Some teachers found other jobs and had to be replaced with brand new teachers. Some lacking qualifications to bid for available positions were actually laid off. The practice of sending layoff
notices to teachers who don't really need to be laid off is done to drive up turnover rates for low-seniority teachers, which in turn holds down payroll costs. It is a practice that has a disparate impact on students of color because students of color are heavily over-represented in programs where low-seniority teachers are heavily
concentrated. It's an example of institutional racism, and is arguably an illegal practice on those grounds.

I am in favor of desegregating low-seniority teachers by distributing low-seniority teachers evenly through all established schools / programs. The setting-aside of positions for low-seniority teachers (employed less than 5 full years) should be phased in over a period of 3 to 5 years to avoid a massive teacher realignment like the one concocted by the district administration in 2004. How to desegregate, but not whether to desegregate low-seniority teachers should be negotiated with the teachers union. There is a precedent for setting aside positions for new teachers, as I am proposing. The Minneapolis School District has accepted grants from the US Department of Education for class size reduction, which require that the grant money be used to hire newly teachers, and that those new teachers be evenly distributed to all schools within a school district.

Doug Mann for School Board in 2008