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Alexandra Tempus, Associated Press, Published March 30 2012

UPDATED: Dayton says he won't sign teacher layoff bill

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said Friday that he won't sign legislation that would allow schools to lay off teachers based on factors other than seniority.

The Democrat governor called the bill “more of a political ploy than a serious policy attempt” and said it was among several Republican initiatives introduced this year aimed at undermining teachers, public schools and unions.

“It's just another round of onslaughts, all with the underlying premise that public schools are failing,” the governor said during a news conference at the Capitol.

The legislation would enable school administrators to consider teacher performance during layoffs. The House and Senate passed different versions of the bill in February, and a conference committee is working out the differences. The legislation will need final votes in both chambers before it could go to Dayton.

Under current law, schools must lay off teachers by seniority unless districts negotiate their own layoff policy. The bill would let schools consider teacher performance before seniority when making those decisions. It would go into effect for the 2016-17 school year.

Republicans had argued that the current system forces schools to favor senior teachers over newer ones, regardless of which teachers are the best in the classroom.

Bill sponsor Rep. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, called Dayton's decision “a mistake.”

“He essentially decided to continue a program that is quality-blind that doesn't retain the most highly effective teachers and I don't see how that benefits students,” Petersen said.

The Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and the statewide public teachers union, Education Minnesota, both opposed the measure. Union leaders had said that evaluations should take place throughout the school year and that low-performing teachers should be addressed before the layoff point.

Democrats also have said that the bill was premature because a statewide teacher evaluation system is still in development. Petersen said the new system would have been sharper if used hand-in-hand with his bill.

“The notion that you would intentionally develop a teacher evaluation tool without knowing how that tool is going to be used is illogical,” Petersen said. “It's really just a lame excuse not to act and hope the issue goes away.”

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