Wednesday, February 22, 2012

And Now. . .The Rest of the Story. Didn't even get through my blogging this afternoon, so I'm back again tonight to re-cap the legislative action on Tuesday and Wednesday (but not in Paul Harvey fashion).

The last hearing on Tuesday was the Senate Education Committee, which dedicated itself to the bill (HF 1870) that would implement a teacher lay-off system that does not use seniority in the unrequested leave of absence equation. It does need to be pointed out that nothing exists in current Minnesota law that precludes the local bargaining process from implementing a lay-off system based on factors other than seniority, but tradition (and inertia) seems to have made seniority and, by extension, "last in/first out" the primary method of determining who gets laid off.

The Senate first heard this bill as SF 1690 last week before HF 1870 passed off the House floor. The Senate then waited until today to continue its deliberation on the bill. The discussion hasn't changed that much. Education Minnesota keeps mentioning the point I cited above about local bargaining not preventing the implementation of lay-off frameworks that don't rely as heavily on seniority, but those arguments aren't getting much of a foothold. Another item mentioned in opposition to the bill during yesterday's testimony was that passing this bill would disrupt the work of the task force that has been working on the teacher evaluation model required in last year's legislation.

For as much as I think task forces should be able to do the work that is set in front of them, I don't see that much of a problem in letting the Legislature speak on issues that may be before a task force. One of the problems I have witnessed over the last couple of decades is that the Legislature sometimes passes vague laws and doesn't give a task force, commission, or state department enough direction as to legislative intent of a bill. As a result, these bodies often produce reports or implement programs that don't meet with legislative approval. In other words, when the Legislature speaks with clarity, it should be welcomed. One can agree or disagree with what the Legislature has done or its stated intent in regard to a piece of legislation, but by making statements that clearly describe what the Legislature wants to have happen on a certain issue saves time and money and helps both proponents and opponents of a legislative action hone their arguments. In other words, it clears the fog out of the room.

HF 1870 will now head to the Senate floor where it is expected to pass. Whether or not it's a "dead bill walking" as it heads down to the Governor's office for its signature or veto is a question to which we are all awaiting an answer.

House Education Finance, Wednesday, 2/22 (Not in Room 222). Nope, the meeting was in Room 5 of the State Office Building, but I couldn't help myself trying to play with a little piece of pop culture and mention the school house drama from the late-1960s/early-1970s, "Room 222" starring Michael Constantine as principal Seymour Kaufmann, Lloyd Haynes as teacher Pete Dixon, and Karen Valentine as teacher Alice Johnson. Anyway, back to Planet Earth. . .

The House Education Finance Committee spent most of its time discussing the Qualified Economic Offer bargaining system. This bill that was passed by the House last year as part of its Omnibus Education Funding Bill and included in the version of the bill that was vetoed by the Governor at the end of the 2011 session.

The Qualified Economic Offer is very straightforward. Under its framework, a school board can, at any juncture of the bargaining process, limit the increase in the teacher's contract to the percentage increase in the general education basic formula passed by the Legislature in the previous year. Needless to say, this puts a damper on salary increases and teachers are obviously opposed to this approach.

This bill was laid over and I fully expect it to be part of the House Omnibus Education Bill again this year. And, as was the result last session, I don't see it becoming law. I do, however, expect it to be part of the discussion during the campaign season.

Senate Education, Wednesday. The Senate Education Committee covered two bills on Wednesday. The first was SF 451 (Stumpf), a bill that would increase the career and technical levy formula and also clear up language related to the ability of school districts to offer science and mathematics graduation requirements in career and technical education classes. I can't say enough about how career and technical educators are raising the bar in their programs and delivering academic content in applied settings. Funding for career and technical education programs has suffered over the past two decades and the time has come to bolster funding levels in order to provide high quality learning opportunities for students who learn best in applied settings.

The Senate also heard SF 1531, which would expand student eligibility to participate in the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program to qualified 9th and 10th graders. The PSEO program has been quite a success (with a rare wart and some hard feelings) and expanding it judiciously is probably a step in the right direction (but let me stress "judiciously").

Border Battles. Not every border battle involves teams from the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. The new legislative district boundaries that will take effect for the 2012 election were released on Tuesday and some very interesting pairings of existing legislators will result as part of the process. 46 incumbent legislators (16 Senators and 30 Representatives) find themselves "doubled up" in the same district as a result of the reapportionment process. In a number of these instances, an incumbent will either choose not to run or, in the more isolated case, move to an open district.

My days of political hackery are behind me so I don't follow this process as closely as I once did, but I found several things a bit curious. Among them:
  • I still find it hard to believe that the 8th Congressional District will come all the way down to Chisago County. I figured that Congresswoman Bachmann would be paired with another member of Minnesota's current Congressional delegation, but I thought it would be freshman member Chip Cravaack and not 4th District member Betty McCollum. St. Cloud remains part of the 6th Congressional District and I thought it would move to the 8th or the 7th, with the southern portion of the resulting 8th Congressional District being shifted into the 6th. So much for my guess.
  • I still can't believe that Rice County is split into two different Senate Districts. Prior to 2002, Rice County was pretty much a "north/south" district that contained both Northfield and Faribault. In 2002, the county was split into two "east/west" districts and I'm surprised that pattern was retained.
  • The "communities of interest" framework didn't seem to be followed all that closely in the inner-ring suburbs, which look like they were designed with an egg beater. Part of the reason for that is that the districts in the urban core needed to pick up population and, as a result, had to move into the first-ring suburbs to accomplish that. This started a ripple effect that split a number of suburbs and placed them in two (or three) legislative districts. While "communities of interest" methodology doesn't necessarily confine itself to municipal boundaries, this map doesn't seem to follow much of any methodology.
You'll probably want to pick up a scorecard for the comings and goings of the next month. District conventions to endorse legislative candidates will be meeting soon and legislative candidates will have to decide if and where they will run. Unlike congressional candidates, legislative candidates must live in their district for at least six months prior to the November election. That means candidates will have to be in place no later than the first week of May. Who knows, there may be some prime properties to sublet. Watch those Want Ads.

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