Petersen meets with governor to talk teacher tenure legislation

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The topic of breakfast table talk between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans leaders March 2 wasn’t the Minnesota Vikings’ stadium but education reform.

Rep. Branden Petersen

“It was all about Last In, First Out,” said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester.

Two Anoka County lawmakers carrying the so-called LIFO legislation, Rep. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, and Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, met with the governor along with Senjem and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.

“It was a good conversation,” said Petersen, who enjoyed the directness of the talks.

The LIFO bill, which is opposed by the teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, would allow school districts in times of teacher layoffs to base their layoff decisions on teacher effectiveness rather seniority.

According to Education Minnesota, the bill indirectly gives school boards permission to get rid of higher paid teachers for lower paid teachers, among other criticisms.

Both the House and Senate have passed LIFO legislation, but the two bills are somewhat dissimilar — Wolf’s bill has language concerning probationary teachers that Petersen’s doesn’t have, for instance — so the bills could go to conference committee where the differences can be worked out.

But Republicans seem eager for the Dayton Administration to work with them to craft LIFO legislation that can be signed into law.

“I’m hoping we can come together,” said Petersen.

Indeed, if Dayton doesn’t like his bill, suggest an alternative, he said.

Petersen’s attitude seems to be shared by Zellers.

“Let’s keep working on it,” said Zellers.

According to Zellers, Wolf made some good points in talking with the governor, explaining that teacher seniority and teacher experience are not necessarily the same thing.

That is, it’s possible to be an experienced teacher although be ranked low in terms of seniority.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, a lawmaker interested in government reform and a LIFO supporter, believes the reason House and Senate Republicans aren’t quickly sending the LIFO legislation to the governor is because they’re looking for a compromise, she said.

“It doesn’t matter how good of a bill — if it doesn’t become law, it doesn’t matter,” said Bonoff.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said the reason Petersen seems willing to rework his bill is because he realizes there’s problems with it.

Senjem, for one, while saying Dayton has concerns about the LIFO bill, said the governor could be near the tipping point.

“I would characterize him as on the edge,” he said of the governor’s support.

But an administration official said that Senjem’s depiction of the governor as “on the edge” could be a bit of an exaggeration.

One concern the governor has of the bill is timing — the legislation would not go into effect for several years.

In the meantime, a task force will be examining the whole issue of appraising teacher effectiveness.

According to Petersen, the actual process of forming a conference committee would take a week.

He thinks there’s plenty of time to reach an agreement and pass a bill, Petersen said.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Republicans and Dayton have worked successfully in the past on crafting perceived education reform legislation, such as teacher alternative licensure.

Bonoff said LIFO could be traveling the same path.

The Republican leaders having breakfast with the governor March 2 is part of a regular meeting schedule.