By T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
The topic of breakfast table talk between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans leaders this morning (March 2) wasn’t the Vikings’ stadium but education reform.
“It was all about Last In, First Out,” said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester.
Two area 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., this morning.
“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.
Education Minnesota officials style the bill as indirectly giving school boards permission to get rid of higher paid teachers for lower paid teachers, among other criticisms.
Both House and Senate already passed their 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, Petersen explained.
Petersen’s attitude seems shared by Zellers.
“Let’s keep working on it,” said Zellers.
Zellers believes 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 though 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.
“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, believes the governor could be near the tipping point.
“I would characterize him as on the edge,” said Senjem of the governor’s support.
Senjem spoke of keep trying to persuade the governor.
But an administration official suggested 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.
Petersen indicated that 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.
“Absolutely,” he said.
Republicans and Dayton have worked successfully in the past on crafting perceived education reform legislation, such as teacher alternative licensure.
Bonoff believes LIFO could be traveling the same path.
The Republican leaders having breakfast with the governor this morning is part of a regular meeting schedule.