Teacher tenure bill delayed by cost estimate

Ways and Means Chair Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, discussed some fiscal costs associated with a bill that addresses evaluation and retention of Minnesota public school teachers at a press conference Feb. 26, 2015. Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Republicans in the Minnesota House have delayed a planned vote on a teacher tenure and licensing bill, after learning that the proposed policy changes would have some unexpected costs.

Minnesota Management and Budget released a fiscal note Thursday showing the two-year estimated cost of the bill is $895,000 million, a slight reduction from a preliminary estimate.

The estimate arrived a few hours before a scheduled House floor session. But House Ways and Means Chairman Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, said he’s still not convinced that there is a fiscal impact.

“We pass bills all the time where we say the department shall do this,” he said. “There may be a few additional costs, but departments have employees. They have the ability to absorb these costs, and that’s what I believe is the case here.”

Knoblach’s committee will now hold a hearing on the bill Monday.

Rep. Jenifer Loon of Eden Prairie, the bill’s chief sponsor, said she thinks the fiscal note is “bogus,” and blamed DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.

“I must say I’m incredibly disappointed with the governor and his administration,” Loon said. “A fiscal note has been manufactured with what we believe to be some very specious claims of a fiscal impact.”

Dayton vetoed a similar GOP-backed bill on teacher tenure in 2012.

In a written response, MMB spokesman John Pollard defended the estimate. He said fiscal notes are prepared under a long-standing procedure.

“The governor, his staff, or even the commissioner of MMB do not have any influence of the content and determinations within fiscal notes,” Pollard wrote. “Agency experts estimate costs, based upon the language of the bill.  If a legislator believes the language or intent of a bill is not properly reflected in a fiscal note, we work with the legislator, the agency and their staff to sort out the issues.”

The House is now expected to take up the bill (HF 2) next week. The legislation would require public school districts to negotiate local policies for layoffs that emphasize a teacher performance over seniority.

It also directs the Board of Teaching to speed up the licensing of out-of state teachers to work in Minnesota and allows school districts to hire non-licensed community experts for some vacancies.