Monday, March 19, 2012

Fast-Paced Monday. While it wasn't exactly action galore, there was quite a bit going on in the education world at the Capitol today. As I reported yesterday, the conference committee on HF 1870--the proposed changes to "last in/first out" as the preponderant determinant of lay-off policy--began at noon. The conference committee heard from Sandi Jacobs, the Vice-President of the National Council on Teacher Quality, regarding the need for student achievement to be the primary factor on which layoff policy should be based.

Jacobs gave an interesting and thought-provoking presentation, but one of the problems with the presentation is that it took the conference committee into areas not covered by the bill. At one point, a conferee suggested that seniority be tossed out completely in determining layoff policy, which clearly isn't policy contained in HF 1870.

One thing that does get garbled in this discussion is the difference between experience and seniority. When one takes a step back, the difference is clear, but it is important to point that out during the debate. Experience is how long a teacher has been teaching. Seniority is where a teacher sits on the "grid" of teachers in a district. When teachers move from district-to-district, the certainly retain their experience, but not necessarily their seniority. As we move forward on the discussion of HF 1870, seniority, and the role it plays in district layoff policies, will be a subject of much interest.

On the House floor, HF 2424, the bill authored by Representative Tim O'Driscoll (R-Sartell) that would change management of the school trust lands passed by a vote of 104-26. Frankly, I was a bit surprised by the vote.

Most of the votes against the bill emanated from two related reasons: (1) concern that overweening pursuit of increased revenue from school trust lands will lead to environmental degradation and costs to future generations of Minnesotans, and (2) belief that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is in the best position to manage the lands to protect the environment and responsibly market the trust lands.

The problem with that mentality is that the DNR has not served as an impartial manager in many instances. Representative O'Driscoll and Representative Denise Dittrich (DFL-Champlin) pointed out several examples where this hasn't been the case.

From the cheap seats, my frustration lies with the fact that the DNR is funding some positions and operations out of the school trust land proceeds. It is this lack of transparency that is troubling and maddening. Gleaning greater earnings from the school trust lands is important and the further importance of doing that in an environmentally responsible way goes without saying. But that doesn't excuse the lack of transparency that has been at play in the management of the trust lands. Whatever the fate of this particular piece of legislation (the Governor has yet to weigh in on the issue), the least that should happen is that the system should work with greater clarity and purposefulness.

The Senate Education Committee had a quick hearing in which it heard five bills, most of them dealing with fund transfers.

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