Both Sides: Bill will free up millions of dollars to save teaching jobs

As a former Rochester public school teacher and a daughter of two public school teachers, and a mother of three Rochester public school graduates, I am passionate about education. As vice chair of the Senate Education Committee, I am glad to report that the committee just acted favorably on Senate File 56, a bill that could keep great teachers in our schools educating our children.

State aid to public schools comprises 37 percent of the state’s general fund budget. That translates into $13 billion this two-year budget cycle. The state is facing the largest deficit in history. The projected deficit has grown to $6.2 billion! In these challenging times, we must empower our school districts to keep teachers in our classrooms.

Right now, school districts are grappling with state mandates and teacher union demands. As a result of this burden, our children are losing good teachers. Senate File 56 empowers school districts to live within their means by removing three mandates that present significant budget dilemmas. The legislation also postpones pay increases for two years for all school employees.

The current economic climate has been challenging for families and businesses. The private sector has been making tough decisions every day to survive the downturn. They are well acquainted with pay freezes or worse. It’s time we gave school districts the tools and local power to make those tough decisions as well.

The three mandates that this piece of legislation eliminates give local districts the option to determine how best to allocate their staffing dollars and relieves them from incurring significant financial penalties.


Specifically, the legislation lifts mandates that say certain staff are "off limits" for cuts, forcing school districts to fire good teachers in order to live with their budget. It also removes mandates that set aside money for staff development. While I recognize the importance of staff development, I hope to empower local officials to decide how much they choose to spend (whether that is more or less than what the existing mandate requires).

Additionally, the mandate penalizing school districts for not rushing to conclude contract negotiations by an arbitrary date, would be removed. One district lost nearly $1 million because of this punitive law, forcing the teachers to cough up additional money to pay for their own health insurance. By eliminating these three mandates, school districts are given the flexibility to effectively weather this tough economic environment.

The legislation also postpones salary increases for the next two years. However, it does not prevent school districts from paying increased health insurance costs for staff. This temporary flat line, a continuation of current salary levels in public schools, is a fiscally responsible way to move forward. It means no more automatic salary increases that school districts cannot afford. No more threats of closing down schools with strikes if labor demands aren’t met. And most importantly, no more large-scale lay-offs of newly-hired teachers to pay salary increases for remaining staff.

This bill puts the public first: the student, the parent and the taxpayer. It retains teachers and protects jobs rather than cynically following a pattern of unaffordable built-in raises which lead to school deficits and massive layoffs. It provides breathing room at a time of severe national economic downturn and time to work toward more long term solutions.

It may be difficult for the highly-paid Education Minnesota president ($164,195 per year) and chief lobbyist ($124,308) to understand, but fresh, energetic teachers making a fraction of that amount are concerned about their jobs, and taxpayers are facing their own economic pressures after already generously funding public education.

The Minnesota School Boards Association and Minnesota Association of School Administrators enthusiastically endorse this legislation because it frees up tens of millions of dollars that can be used for district priorities and that will save approximately 1,000 classroom teaching jobs. Editorial support has included the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and the Mankato Free Press.

As a teacher myself, I am dedicated to putting Minnesota students first. Our students benefit from decisions made by parents, teachers and local school officials. This legislation hands the decision-making power back to those people and protects teachers from massive layoffs. Some have dubbed SF 56 a bill to protect jobs for teachers. I call it a bill to keep good teachers in our classrooms educating our children.

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