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Legislators Aim To Unmask Severance Packages

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota legislators sought Tuesday to compel greater disclosure of public employee severance packages in the wake of a secretive $255,000 payout to a Burnsville administrator.

The House Education Finance Committee approved a bill that would make public the reasons for any payout settlement greater than $10,000. Schools and other public employers are currently required to do so only if the settlement is related to solving a dispute, Rep. Pam Myhra said.

Officials in the Burnsville district have declined to explain the settlement paid to the former human resources director, saying it would violate privacy laws. That stance has sparked anger from parents and residents, and Myhra, a Republican from the district, said her bill was a direct response to the payout.

The committee also advanced a bill that would let schools suspend without pay a teacher charged with a felony. The teacher would get back pay if he or she is cleared. Current law requires districts to pay such suspended teachers if they demand a hearing before dismissal.

Jan Alswager, a lobbyist for Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers’ union, testified against the felony suspension bill, saying it risked presuming a teacher’s guilt rather than innocence.

The two bills are just the latest of several this session focusing on teachers and school employees. Gov. Mark Dayton earlier signed into law a widely supported bill requiring teachers to pass a basic reading and math skills test before being licensed. He is also weighing a bill that would let schools consider teacher evaluations as part of layoff decisions rather than seniority alone.

During the committee meeting, Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said some of the bills unfairly vilify teachers. Anzelc, himself a former teacher, said he worried that they would have a chilling effect on the profession.

“(Teachers’) tenure is being attacked, their seniority is being attacked, their licensure is being attacked, their personal conduct is being attacked,” Anzelc said outside the hearing. “I just don’t believe that it’s the classroom teacher who should bear the brunt of any perceived inadequacies in our public schools.”

Committee Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who co-sponsored the two newest bills, disagreed.

“These are the same arguments the status quo made against open enrollment, charter schools and post-secondary enrollment,” Garofalo said. “The data shows on a bipartisan basis that is simply not accurate.”

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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