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Adam Platt's Op-ed: Toward getting the right teacher in the right class

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Adam Platt's Op-ed:
Toward getting the right teacher in the right class

by Doug Mann, 19 October 2006
Adam Platt's op-ed piece in the Star-Tribune supports the current school board's goal of watering down and eventually stripping away the seniority, tenure, and due process rights of teachers. "Getting the right teacher in the right classroom" is their new rallying cry.

During his tenure as superintendent, David Jennings proposed that district-run schools be replaced by charter schools. I don't know of any unionized charter schools. And the unionized employees of a charter school would not be in position to bargain for conditions much better than what nonunion employees must settle for.

Current board members (and candidates) say the administration needs greater power to fire or reassign teachers. Due process, seniority, and tenure rights are seen as the problem.

According to Platt, "...Previous boards signed contracts with the city's teachers union, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), that are playing a lead role in destroying the public schools..."

Below are a couple of the false claims that Adam Platt makes in his Star-Tribune op-ed piece to support the above-cited contention:

"Teacher assignments in the Minneapolis public schools (MPS) system are determined solely on the basis of seniority? Principals, administrators and parents have no say in determining if a teacher secures a long-term teaching position at an individual school..."

"Competency has no role in layoff decisions? Often, good teachers in thriving schools are laid off due to declining enrollment at other schools."

The claim that teacher assignments are made solely on the basis of seniority is simply not true. Teachers do not have the right to "bump" lower seniority teachers. Qualified teachers have a right to bid into positions that come open, but do not have the right to bump a lower-seniority teacher from their position. Current law requires the district to layoff the last-hired teachers first, except in cases where the application of this rule is unreasonable. Assigning jobs to teachers who lack minimum qualifications might be considered as an unreasonable application of the "last-hired, first-fired" rule.

Under current law, a teacher may be fired for being incompetent, and it is fairly easy to terminate the employment of a teacher for less-than-fully-satisfactory job performance during their first 3 years of employment. Is there any other unionized job on the planet with a 3 year probationary period? The current board, and at least some of the DFL-endorsed board candidates are agitating for the elimination of due process rights for teachers who have completed their first three years of employment. Without due process rights, a teacher has no rights that the administration must respect.

In my opinion, the problem of high teacher turnover and questionable teacher reassignments is the result of administrative actions not required by current law or the teachers' contract. For example, the practice of sending layoff notices to teachers who do not need to be laid off is arguably a violation of the Minnesota Teacher Tenure Act, which allows the district to layoff as many teachers as necessary due to the elimination of teaching positions. A layoff notice motivates a teacher to look for another job and permits them to accept employment with another school district in Minnesota. This is done to increase the proportion of teachers who are near the bottom of the pay scale. It is a cost-containment strategy that has produced insanely high teacher-turnover rates in most programs in which students of color are over-represented.

Without due process, seniority and tenure rights, the teachers union will have no power to protect teachers from arbitrary and unreasonable actions by the administration. I don't see how the elimination of those rights can be a good thing for a large majority of Minneapolis Public School students and their parents.

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