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Minneapolis School Closings
Superintendent Jennings and school board members,

In her latest Strib Opinion piece, Ms. Johnson [a school board member] praises Mr. Jennings bold leadership, and implicitly supports his reorganization plan, his proposal to eliminate teacher tenure rights, and the sponsorship of more charter schools, which will help to draw down enrollment in the district's own schools.

The plan is expected to produce a decline in enrollment that will eliminate the need to rehire most of the layed-off teachers. The district will permanently lay off more high-seniority, high-paid teachers with the reorganization plan than without it. The district has a strong financial incentive for firing highly paid, high seniority teachers instead of low-paid, low-seniority teachers. That is what this reorganization is about.  

The district is losing students, and the state revenue that follows them. But the district doesn't lose any of the revenue produced by local property taxes. The district's strategy is to drive down the student population by eliminating bus service, closing schools, and by other methods of motivating parents and students to opt out of the Minneapolis Public Schools. Young families will move to the suburbs, empty-nesters will move from the suburbs to the city.

Tenure rights are important to preserve because they limit the ability of management to run the schools like banana republics. Teachers who don't have tenure and seniority rights have very few rights that the administration must respect. Without tenure rights, the teachers' union would be completely ineffective as a representative of the teachers.

The teacher tenure law says that teachers employed with the district for more than 3 years have the right to contest a decision to remove them from their positions. The law requires the district to have a good reason to remove a teacher from their position. Incidentally, ineffectiveness as a teacher is a "good reason" to fire a teacher.

Ms. Johnson says that seniority as a decisive criteria in determining teacher assignments is an obstacle to closing the gap. How so?
As I have pointed out, a class-size reduction program was carried out during the early 1990s without taking measures to prevent the concentration of inexperienced teachers in schools that teachers considered to be among the least desirable. That's a problem because teachers generally learn how to teach more effectively by teaching, and the learning curve is usually pretty steep in certain areas, such as classroom management. There is such a thing as overexposing students to inexperienced teachers.

In the 1990s, the MPS participated in a class size reduction program sponsored by the Federal government. In order to participate in that program, it was necessary for the MPS administration to work out an agreement with the union to create teacher-in-training positions that were evenly distributed throughout the district. That was done without eliminating seniority as a decisive factor in determining teacher placement in other teaching positions. That was done without changes in state law. Some teachers oppose this way of desegregating new, inexperienced teachers because it limits their mobility. By doing so they are also helping to perpetuate a problem that is driving students out of the district and contributing to the elimination of teaching jobs.

The district's "bold leader" knows how to divide and conquer. Jennings is a politician and PR man by trade. Jennings serves an elite that has no interest in making the kind of education most parents want for their own children accessible to everyone.

-Doug Mann