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Realignment and the Strand Decision
Write-in "Doug Mann" for School Board
Another Option for Minneapolis School Board Voters (2004 General Election)
by Doug Mann, 29 Oct 2004, Submitted to the Star-Tribune for publication 28 Oct 2004

Subheadings: The District's rationale for teacher layoffs and reassignments - The district's actions are unfair & illegal- The district's actions are unreasonable - How excessive layoffs & reassignments can cut payroll costs, increase reimbursements - Excerpts from Minnesota Appeals Court Opinions re district's duty to "realign"

The District's rationale for teacher layoffs and reassignments
The Minneapolis school district is planning to cut 213.8 positions from regular classroom instruction (program 200 in the 2004-2005 budget) based on an estimated enrollment decline of 4,600 students compared to 2003-2004.  The districts enrollment decline has been concentrated in the elementary grades (K-4). The bulk of the  positions to be cut in program 200 will be elementary school teachers.  The district administration is saying that it has a duty to lay off teachers in other areas because: 1) there will not be enough open teaching positions in areas of need for all of the excessed teachers to fill without laying off less senior teachers in other areas,  2)  some of the excessed school teachers lack the certification needed to fill the positions of less senior teachers in other areas who might be laid in order of seniority, from low to high.

Given an insufficient number of openings created through normal attrition (retirements, quits, firings for cause) and  the layoff of less senior teachers in other areas that many of the excessed teachers are not qualified to bid into, the district has opted to 1) fire 600 teachers 2) reassign 200 high-seniority elementary school teachers with certification in high needs areas, e.g., special education and high school.  By doing so, the district is likely to be in a position to offer positions in elementary grades to all of the "fired" elementary teachers, including those with certifications required for positions in high needs areas currently filled by less senior teachers and to which the district is assigning more senior teachers.

The district's actions are unfair, illegal
Are all elementary teachers who hold certification to teach in other areas, not just the more senior teachers being required to bid for jobs in other areas? Do teachers have the right to refuse to be reassigned by seniority (from the top to bottom of the list), with involunary reassignment being imposed on the lower seniority if necessary? It appears that all of the lower seniority elementary teachers who were fired, including those who are certified to teach in high need areas will be given the jobs of higher seniority teachers. If that is the case, the school administrations actions are unfair and violate the tenure and seniority rights of many elementary teachers for the benefit of less senior elementary school teachers who could be reassigned to high need areas.

The district's actions are unreasonable  
There were 1,309.6 positions budgeted in program 200 (Regular instruction) alone, where 213.8 positions are to be cut. Enrollment and teaching positions in special education are not expected to change. The force reduction in program 200 that one might reasonably expect to accomplish through normal attrition and without resorting to layoffs is likely to exceed 100.   Is the layoff of 600 teachers and the "realignment" of 200  teachers more senior than the 200 holding job to be excessed a reasonable action to take in a situation where the lay off of fewer than 100 teachers and the realignment of fewer than 50 teachers might suffice?   

How excessive layoffs & reassignment can cut payroll costs, increase reimbursements
The firing of 600 teachers, the reassignment of another 200 teachers, and a warning by district officials that most of the fired teachers are unlikely to be rehired, is clearly intended to motivate those fired and reassigned teachers to seek employment elsewhere.  The district will also cut costs and increase revenues by 1) reducing the number of teachers who will actually be laid off - when the dust settles - to zero, 2) by reducing the average length of service and pay for teachers holding positions in program 200 (regular instruction), and by increasing reimbursable payroll costs for special education and other programs that provide services for which the state and federal government provides reimbursement.  

Excerpts from Minnesota Appeals Court Opinions re district's duty to "realign"
The following excerpts from Minnesota Appeals Court Opinions address the issues involved with the "realignment process" undertaken by the Minneapolis Public Schools to prevent the layoff or reassignment of elementary school teachers.
"...Strand holds that under the Teacher Tenure Act a  school district is obligated to attempt realignment of teaching assignments in order to retain senior teachers... In Strand, a teacher's position was discontinued, and she could not directly bump a less-senior teacher because she was "not licensed" for the position held by the less-senior teacher.  Strand, 392 N.W.2d at 883.  The remedy imposed in Strand's favor did not require the school district to change the job duties of the position held by the less-senior teacher to comport with the license held by Strand.  Rather, realignment was imposed, which involved reassigning a teacher more senior to Strand.  The reassignment opened a position for which Strand was properly licensed.  In sum, realignment resulted in the laying off of the least-senior teacher.
JoAnne C. Hinckley, vs. School Board of Independent School District
No. 2167, Lakeview, Minnesota, Filed April 27, 2004

"Under the Teacher Tenure Act, a school board may place teachers on unrequested leave of absence if necessary due to financial constraints, lack of students, discontinuation of a position, or a merger of classes caused by a consolidation of districts. Minn. Stat. § 122A.40, subd. 11 (1998). The method for determining which teachers to place on leave is based on seniority, with the least senior teachers being placed on leave first. Id., subd. 11(b). Teachers must be reinstated to their positions, or other available positions, in inverse order of that in which they were placed on leave. Id., subd. 11(e). Thus, the most senior teachers on leave are to be recalled first. See Berland v. Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 314 N.W.2d 809, 817 (Minn. 1981).

From this statutory framework, relator would have us infer a “super-seniority” system in which the sole focus would be reinstating the most senior teachers, regardless of the circumstances. We decline to make such an inference. The legislature, had it wished, could have expressly created such a system, but it chose not to do so. Although the legislature, with the Teacher Tenure Act, adopted a policy to protect seniority rights, the act does not protect those rights at the expense of all other considerations. See Strand v. Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 392 N.W.2d 881, 885 (Minn. 1986). Along with seniority considerations, the legislature has recognized the importance of allowing school districts the flexibility to effectively administer their schools. Id. Relator's interpretation of the act would defeat the latter policy.

From an administrative standpoint, the district has a strong interest in seeing its vacant positions filled by a permanent teacher as soon as possible. Relator's theory would put the district “on hold,” requiring it to hire a temporary, perhaps even marginally qualified, teacher to fill the vacancy. At the same time, a qualified permanent teacher would remain on leave. Relator's theory would detract from continuity and permanence in school staffing, qualities essential not only to school administration, but also to the educational environment of the most important actors in this equation, the students.

Mary Shaner vs. Independent School District No. 2884,
Red Rock Central, Minnesota,
Filed January 25, 2000
            "When the senior teacher on ULA is not licensed to teach the vacant position, the school district is required to realign positions and reassign teachers in order to create a vacancy for which the senior teacher on ULA is licensed.  Harms v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 300, 450 N.W.2d 571, 575 (Minn. 1990).  “This duty to realign, however, [is] limited to where ‘practical and reasonable.’”  Id. (quotation omitted).  

            The school board is not required to consider every possible realignment configuration, but is required to make a reasonable and good-faith attempt to accommodate the most senior teachers.  Id. at 576.  School boards retain substantial discretion to determine whether the realignment is “practical and reasonable” in the context of each individual case.  See Strand v. Special Sch. Dist. No. 1, 392 N.W.2d 881, 886 (Minn. 1986).  “[P]ublic school districts must be accorded sufficient flexibility to effectively administer the schools.”  Id. (citation omitted); see also Destache v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 832, 434 N.W.2d 270, 273-74 (Minn. App. 1989) (rejecting realignment option as unreasonable because not in students’ best interests).

            A teacher challenging a school board’s decision to hire new teachers without realigning “has the burden of showing there was no good faith attempt by the school district to reasonably and practically realign in the recall process.”  Harms, 450 N.W.2d at 577.

            “A school district is acting in an administrative capacity when making personnel decisions.”  Shaner v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 2884, 604 N.W.2d 803, 804 (Minn. App. 2000), review denied (Minn. May. 28, 2000).  Thus, we will affirm a school district’s decision to maintain a teacher on ULA unless the decision is “fraudulent, arbitrary, unreasonable, not supported by substantial evidence on the record, not within its jurisdiction, or based on an erroneous theory of law.”  Ganyo v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 832, 311 N.W.2d 497, 500 (Minn. 1981).  We review de novo questions of law, such as the construction of statutes and rules.  Minneapolis Pub. Hous. Auth. v. Lor, 591 N.W.2d 700, 702 (Minn. 1999).  
This opinion will be unpublished and may not be cited except as provided by Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
Mark Henderson vs. Independent School District No. 706, Virginia, Minnesota