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The district should follow, not seek to reform the Teacher Tenure Act | Draft resolution on teacher layoffs & realignment | Realignment and the Strand Decision | MN Teacher tenure act: Employment; contracts; termination (excerpts)
The district should follow, not seek to reform the Teacher Tenure Act
Write-in "Doug Mann" for School Board
by Doug Mann, 29 Oct 2004, Submitted to the Star-Tribune for publication 28 Oct 2004
Preface: The goal of the district's realignment process is to remove as many high-paid elementary school teachers from their jobs as possible. Teachers have rights under the Teacher Tenure Act, and could challenge the realignment process as a violation of their rights, but the union is supporting management and not the aggrieved teachers. Many teachers have not asserted their rights for fear of retaliation and have come to believe that the district is going to try to screw them one way or another, so they might as well fight back. A group of more than 30 "realigned" teachers recently hired a lawyer who is unwilling to allege that the district has violated any contract rights, does not want to step on the toes of the teachers union leadership and DFL / Labor-endorsed board members.
Contents / headings:
WHY THE TEACHER TENURE ACT SHOULD NOT BE "REFORMED"
*The district is not following the letter of the law
*The district's layoff & realignment policies also:
a) discriminate against high seniority teachers
b) deny employment opportunities to some non-probationary teachers
c) discriminate against teachers in high needs areas.
HOW THE DISTRICT'S REALIGNMENT PROCESS IS UNREASONABLE
*Denies some special Ed students right to be in a safe environment
(which could result in loss of the district's Medicaid revenue)
*Lower standards for staffing special education programs
*Lower quality of instruction in regular education programs
WHY "REFORM" THE TEACHER TENURE ACT?
The board has been calling for "reform" of the teacher tenure act, which requires the district to take "reasonable" steps to see that teachers who have completed their probationary period do not get laid off. (Teachers are on probationary status for 3 years, unless they have held a full-time teaching job in another Minnesota school district, in which case the probationary period is one year.) However, as I will show, the board is not observing limits on involuntary teacher reassignments that are in the law, and the reassignments are anything but "reasonable."
The Teacher Tenure Act also sets very strict limits on involuntary teacher reassignments. However, many teachers are misinformed, do not have effective union representation, and are afraid to assert their rights for fear of retaliation. But material conditions have changed. The district is doing nothing to stop, and everything to promote a massive decline in student enrollment over the next several years. It is a situation where teachers are more likely to assert their rights, as some have done independently of the union's current leadership. That's why the board is trying to make a case for "reforming" the teacher tenure act.
THE DISTRICT IS NOT FOLLOWING THE LETTER OF THE LAW
"...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 has, in fact, laid off far more teachers "...as may be necessary." The district administration reported that it had to lay off 608 teachers at the June 29 board meeting, but the budget adopted by the board on June 29 calls for the elimination of 211 full time positions.
The district administration also did not follow the law and teachers contract when it set about the task of shifting the highest-seniority elementary teachers out of their jobs. The district should start by informing teachers whose positions were cut or are likely to be cut that they might be laid off if they do not bid into another position. Those teachers should then be given the opportunity to bid for open positions, beginning with teachers who have completed their probationary period. Additional steps should be taken before replacing probationary teachers with any of the district's highest seniority elementary school teachers, and *before* sending out any lay off notices.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST HIGH SENIORITY TEACHERS
The district administration isn't just trying to avoid laying off lower-seniority, non-probationary elementary teachers. The district opted for procedures and actions that maximize the number of high-seniority elementary school teachers who can be "realigned" out of their positions and into jobs in different areas, such as special education, secondary schools, etc. During the first week of July notices were sent to nearly all elementary teachers who have multiple teaching licenses and who have been employed with the district for more than 5 years that they must bid into other areas.
NON-PROBATIONARY TEACHERS DENIED EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Although the rationale for realigning high-seniority elementary school teachers out of their jobs was to avoid laying off less senior, non-probationary elementary school teachers, the district administration denied many of those same less senior, non-probationary teachers the opportunity to bid into jobs in different areas. There were jobs that lower-seniority, non-probationary teachers could have bid for, had they not been laid off first.
DISCRIMINATION AGAINST TEACHERS IN HIGH NEEDS AREAS
The district has laid off non-probationary teachers employed with the district for up to 5 years whose jobs are not being discontinued or cut. When the district "rehires" laid off teachers later this summer, some of the teachers who shouldn't have been laid off will have been realigned out of a job. And some of the teachers in high needs areas who have been laid-off are higher on the seniority list than some of the elementary school teachers whose jobs are being preserved through this elaborate game of musical chairs.
HOW THE DISTRICT'S REALIGNMENT PROCESS IS UNREASONABLE
A) SPECIAL ED STUDENTS DENIED SAFE, APPROPRIATE SERVICES
Even if one concedes that the realignment of nearly all high-seniority elementary school teachers is necessary to avoid the lay off of non-probationary elementary school teachers, the Teacher Tenure Act does not require the district to do so at all costs, according to several Minnesota Appeals Court opinions.
Teachers who were reassigned to some special education programs, most notably the program for autistic students, lack the formal education and training needed to provide a safe environment for their students. If the district fails to reverse the decision to reassign those teachers, the district could lose Medicaid funding, but wouldn't be off the hook for providing services funded by Medicaid dollars. The district might also face legal action by parents who have no choice but to send their children to district run-schools. Parents are required to send their children to school, and the district is required to see that there are schools for them that are accessible and safe.
B) LOWER STANDARDS FOR SPECIAL ED PROGRAMS
The district could also be forced to reverse the reassignment of other poorly qualified teachers to special education programs. Under Minnesota law the burden of seeing that students receive an adequate education falls primarily on the shoulders of parents. That's one reason why the Minneapolis School Board has not been sued and found guilty of running substandard schools. Its enough to give parents school 'choice.' However, a majority of special education students don't have choices, i.e., opportunities to enroll in schools other than district-run schools. That shifts the burden of providing an adequate education toward the school district.
The district also faces the possibility of being sued for setting a different and lower standard for filling positions in special education programs than in regular education programs. The Minneapolis School District should be held to "strict scrutiny" by the Courts because it is a school district that has a history of engaging in illegal discrimination against special education students.
C) LOWER QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION IN REGULAR EDUCATION PROGRAMS
The district has reassigned many teacher to jobs they are not well qualified to do in order to create vacancies for a maximum number of high paid, high seniority elementary teachers who hold multiple teaching licenses. And even shifting a teacher from one job to a fairly similar job, such as moving a teacher from a first grade classroom to a third grade classroom, necessarily results in some loss of effectiveness. Someone who has taught grade one for ten years may require a few years of practice in a third grade classroom to achieve a comparable level of effectiveness.