Senate committee OKs school pay freeze

Minnesota schools would be forced to freeze pay for two years under a bill that on Tuesday passed its first hurdle.

The Senate Education Committee approved 9-7 the bill that also would eliminate the current requirement that 2 percent of a school’s budget be spent on staff development, as well as suspend a requirement that employees such as counselors and nurses be retained.

The bill faces at least one more committee hearing before it reaches a full Senate vote.

The pay freeze would apply to all school district employees.

“This is not a freeze specifically directed at teachers,” said bill author Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville.

He said a freeze would allow districts to retain employees, while if pay raises were approved workers may be laid off.

Counselors told the committee that they fear if the bill passes that students would not get the mental and medical help they need to learn in the classroom.

“The number of suicides is increasing,” said Chris Moe, a counselor in Cottage Grove.

If counselors lose their jobs, he asked, “how in the world are they going to get into the classroom to learn?”

School board members and administrators testified in favor of the bill, saying it would provide them more flexibility to deal with financial problems they expect in the next couple of years.

“We are at preservation or we are at survival mode,” said Superintendent Peter Grant of the Kasson-Mantorville school district.

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