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Teacher Layoffs & realignments (News analysis and opinion)
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

The Methods used by the district administration and approved by the board were designed to maximize the number of high-seniority elementary school teachers who would be realigned out of their positions. Both the number of teachers laid off (placed on unrequested leaves of absence) and the number of high-seniority elementary teachers reassigned are excessive and illegal, in my opinion.
News analysis and opinion by Doug Mann

The Minneapolis school district is reassigning 155 high-seniority elementary school teachers to positions they do not want and are not very well qualified to fill. And the district has reshuffled the jobs of many more teachers in order to create the vacancies which those high-seniority teachers are to fill. District officials don't disagree with Minneapolis teacher Kathi Cracraft that "...This is absurd policy decision that seems divorced from reality." - SW Journal, July 26 to August 9, 2004 edition, "Teacher Realignment, Twisted Priorities?" by Bob Gilbert

"However, district and union officials said job protection come first -- a priority mandated by law," according to the above cited SW Journal article.

The same SW Journal article quotes Louise Sundin, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teacher as saying "The issue is about preserving tenured teachers. Without realignment, 155 more tenured teachers would have been laid off."

However, prior to the July 13 school board meeting the district was planning to realign 185 high-seniority teachers out of their jobs,

"As some teachers union and district officials point out, there is a positive side to the realignment story: It saved the positions of 185 less senior Minneapolis teachers. Instead of issuing layoff notices to 310 tenured educators, only 125 received pink slips." -- Unsigned Star-Tribune editorial: Musical chairs/Tons of teacher shifts hurt kids
July 12, 2004

As I will show, the method followed by the district administration and approved by the board was designed to maximize the number of high seniority elementary teachers who would be realigned out of their jobs.  

The district initially layed off about 300 teachers this spring, then 300 tenured this summer, according to district press releases. These layoffs affected nearly all teachers employed with the district for 5 years or less. However, the 2004-2005 budget only calls for reducing the total number of  full time teacher positions by 210. The number of full time teacher positions will fall from about 1800 budgeted for 2003-2004 to about 1600 budgeted for 2004-2005.

The 2004-2005 budget reduces the number of regular K-12 classroom teacher positions by about 214, which reflects a projected enrollment decline of 4,600 students from the Fall of 2003 to the Fall of 2004 and no change in average K-12 class sizes.

Both the number of teachers laid off (placed on unrequested leaves of absence) and the number of high-seniority elementary teachers reassigned are excessive and illegal, in my opinion. The MN Teacher Tenure Act states  

"...The board may place on unrequested leave of absence, without pay or fringe benefits, as many teachers as may be necessary because of discontinuance of position, lack of pupils, financial limitations, or merger of classes caused by consolidation of districts..." MN Teacher Tenure Act, 122A.40, Sub. 11

The district also did not follow the law and teachers contract with respect to giving proper notice to teachers whose positions are likely to be "excessed" due to decreased student enrollment, having those teachers bid for open positions (due to retirements, resignations, etc.) , then considering whether they were qualified to fill the positions of temporary and probationary teachers before "realigning" more senior teachers out of their jobs, and before placing any teachers on unrequested leaves of abscence.

Teacher cuts and enrollment declines

The district's projected enrollment decline of 4,600 from October 2003 to October 2004 represents a loss of nearly the same magnitude that was seen during the previous 5 years. From October 1998 to October 2003 K-12 enrollment declined from about 48,000 to about 43,000. Elementary school enrollment declined sharply while secondary school enrollment increased. Most of the Minneapolis public school enrollment decline was offset by increases in the enrollment of Minneapolis K-12 students in charter schools, private schools, and suburban public schools.

As one board member put it at a 1999 school board meeting, "The data shows that were are losing market share." Students who are not doing well in district-run schools are far more likely to transfer out of the district than a student who is thriving academically. Enrollment in grades K-1 from 1998 to 2003 fell by nearly 30% for African American students compared to about 7% for whites (based on analysis of data provided by the MPS student accounting office).  

The huge decline in elementary school enrollment from 1998 to 2003 coincided with the promotion of part-time curriculum tracking beginning in kindergarten and grade 1. This is generally done by separating students into different classrooms for reading instruction based on perceived ability. The "high-ability" students usually receive instruction in higher-order reading skills and do better in other subject areas than "medium" and "low-ability" students, who learn lower order reading skills.

The designated "low-ability" students generally fail to thrive academically and are likely to be diagnosed as having emotional-behavioral disorders. A majority of African-American students fall more than 2 years behind academically, and about one-fourth of all African American students in the Minneapolis Public Schools are also diagnosed as having Emotional-Behavioral disorders.    

Another reason for the failure of district-run schools to adequately educate poor and minority students is a high concentration of inexperienced teachers in schools serving students in high poverty, high minority schools. District and teachers union official have long been ignoring pleas from advocates for poor and minority students to desegregate the inexperienced teachers.  A study of data from Texas public schools done by Ronald Ferguson found that about 40% of the variability in math and reading scores between students in grades 1 to 11 could be attributed to teacher expertise (experience, education, and license exam scores).